In Conversation with Sophie Strand & Andreas Weber: Risking New Shapes, Queering Biology, Endosymbiosis & Becoming Good Soil

Story-Telling & Narrative

In Conversation With Sophie Strand & Andreas Weber: Risking New Shapes, Queering Biology, Endosymbiosis & Becoming Good Soil

Article with Sophie Strand, Andreas Weber, Tammy Gan on Thursday 29th September 2022

Why do we invite relational entanglements with the world around us? What is an Ecological Eros, and what does it mean to queer, to eroticise, to make ecologically intregrous, love? How is death, within an ecological frame, a transition? In this Facebook live session hosted by advaya, we dive into the world of matter and desire, and rewilding mythologies, with writers Sophie Strand and Andreas Weber.

The Old Window, Anna Archer

This is a lightly edited transcript of a Facebook live conversation with Andreas Weber and Sophie Strand, ahead of the upcoming courses Ecology of Love and Rewilding Mythology, of which they are curators. Purchase the bundle ticket (available on the ticketing page of either website) for 30% off the total cost of both tickets, and get access to both courses this fall.

Header image: The Old Window, Anna Archer

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Today we are live with two of our hosts and curators of our upcoming courses at advaya. Sophie is the host and curator of rewilding mythology, and Andreas is the co-host and co-curator of Ecology of Love alongside Hannah Close, who is our lead curator.

I wanted to keep the introduction short, because people can look up both of your websites for all the information. But for people who are watching and who are not aware, Sophie is a writer based in the Hudson Valley, who focuses on the intersection of spirituality, and storytelling and ecology. Andreas is a Berlin-based book and magazine writer and an independent scholar whose work is focusing on a reevaluation of our understanding of the living.

And I wanted to begin by acknowledging that this conversation, like the introduction, is incredibly short. And it’s going to be an introduction to both of their work that is so rich and so deep, that this conversation is only going to be a introduction. So it’s not going to be able to cover everything, unfortunately.

There’s so much in both of your work. So I’m really excited and thankful that you’re spending some time with us to share just a little bit of that today. The first question is a very introductory one, for people to get a sense of what you do. So I wanted to know, what questions are you both exploring right now? They can be as broad or as niche [as you’d like]. And please feel free to ramble. Then we’ll see what comes through.

SOPHIE STRAND: If I’m going to be totally honest, and not actually try and package this, I’m finishing an eco-spiritual memoir which is trying to trouble ideas of healthism and the idea of health as being something that is an individual responsibility, and how we have precluded more feral types of wellness and joy, when we have narrowly prescribed what correct embodiment is supposed to look like. And as someone who’s really interested in microbiology, in symbiosis…

I’ve been thinking about how disability is actually kind of an invitation to collaboration that lacks in a body are moments when you have to risk collaborating with another body.#

And moments of the most biological novelty in the history of the earth are moments when two beings risk their shapes and merge, like lichen, the mycorrhizal, symbiotic fungi and plants. We have the original endosymbiotic cells, half digesting each other. So I’m really interested in these lacks in our bodies, not as being something to problematise or fix and bring us back into kind of like cultural legibility, but to start thinking of them as invitations to more risky co-becoming.

ANDREAS WEBER: Lovely, thank you.

Before I start, I want to acknowledge the land I’m on right now. I’m actually not in Berlin, I’m in Italy, in the Apennines […] in Liguria, close to Genoa, between Genoa and Pisa. And so I’m part of this watershed, and I want to acknowledge all these beings which I’ve gone through with [in] this brutal summer. And just as representatives, the oaks […], they don’t have their autumn colors, they’re still green, and the wild oregano, and sage, which has started to re-flower, like in another spring, and the water of the river, which is running through myself when I drink water from the tap. […] These beings are with me, all the time. And they support me, and they teach me.

What I’m what I’m after, right now, at the moment, you can glean already from what I’ve said, I’m going on to pursue my quest of understanding reality as an inside, not just as an assemblage of stuff, or objects or things, but as an inside, which means as an experience, as subjectivity, as desire, as yearning, as lust for life. I have become very deeply immersed in a very outspoken, animistic view. So I’m addressing all beings as persons with whom I share this reality, which isn’t inside, but which is also […] so many beautiful radiant bodies with whom I am, all the time, exchanging myself. And this, again, is something which happens also on the inside. So I’m somehow going deeper and deeper in this.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): When Sophie, you were mentioning exploring, lack and exploring what happens when two beings risk their shape and merge, I feel like that almost word for word, echoes, Andreas’ book, there are parts of that book that I can hear, it’s almost the […] same thing being said in different words. I know both of your work is influenced by each other, but not necessarily at the time of writing those those books and those essays. So it’s really interesting that now you both are in conversation when you’re exploring like similar ideas, and coming from such different backgrounds as well. That’s very exciting for me to watch happen.

SOPHIE STRAND: I want to acknowledge that when I encountered your work, Andreas, it was like I had finally found someone who was stitching language to to the type of microbial anarchic animism that I felt kin to, but had never been described. So if I am echoing those words, it’s because I am directly inspired by them.

And in particular, there’s this part of Enlivenment, your book, that just, it’s becomes so foundational to all of my thinking—[that] we have to understand that our individual aliveness is not the most important thing. It’s about contributing to the general aliveness, sometimes at the risk of our own individual self. And that, as someone who has, an incurable illness and who is constantly trying to think about how to give my life meaning without becoming hyperfixated on my own progress and my own wellness, that has been an incredibly helpful reframe.

ANDREAS WEBER: Thank you, Sophie. I’m actually honoured that you’ve been inspired by my work, because I’m also inspired by your work. So it’s a great honor.

Sophie, you said something, which I find extremely important, and which actually, can direct [us] somewhere to look, [some]where [that] normally, we in Western civilisation rarely look, and that is that life is not about us first. And so much in our culture is about this—first, [that] you look after yourself, and you have to survive, you have to be better, and actually the mainstream interpretation of Darwinism is also about this.

And, that’s in my eyes, profoundly misguided. In betting only on individual survival, wellbeing, sheltering, of keeping yourself dry, at the expense of others, unfortunately, we lose, actually, what life is, after all… what life is about.#

And interestingly, if you do this, and I think many people who tried and tried and tried, and somehow not succeeded and remain still suffering, and still not contented, know that even if you try to look only after yourself, you don’t really find yourself, [and] you don’t even serve yourself, if you don’t serve life, and I think it’s truly a part of my work to expand my search in a way that it’s not about me, it’s about life.

SOPHIE STRAND: I love that. I oftentimes think about how, we are patterns, rather than [being] static objects. And in order to maintain that pattern, you have to keep intaking otherness. So in a certain way, self is always about repetitively inviting in otherness to build your body. When you start to keep out the otherness, your body breaks down, you stop moving, you stop maintaining a self.

ANDREAS WEBER: Somehow, it’s so obvious. If you look at this, even from a biological [perspective]. So as you all know, I’ve been a student of biology, and […] my thinking is still founded upon [being] a theoretician of biology, studying with a, I’d say, master of philosophy, of biology, or even you could even say spiritual biology now, Francisco Varela, in Paris, the Chilean biologist. And the interesting thing is actually, that this fiction of being, or needing to be autonomous, or sovereign, is contradicting basic observances, basic stuff happening in your cell, at every moment, or between your cells and other cells, at every moment.

It’s crazy, because biology is a very well-advanced science, and they’re not doing dumb stuff there, so that they have the means. And then still, mainstream biology is somehow overlooking this foundational feature that every living being, in order to create herself or himself, is constantly rebuilding from others and constantly breaking down in order to feed others. So this is so foundational, and it’s absolutely not part of our understanding of the world. So this is really crazy, actually.

SOPHIE STRAND: Absolutely agree. Yes. That we have to keep the lymphatic movements of matter happening. Sometimes I think that human beings are just vessels for matter that was in a hummingbird, a hundred years ago, to bump into matter that was in the same hummingbird and another human being somewhere else. We are facilitating microscopic reunions that we never even know that we are the vessels for.

ANDREAS WEBER: When you’re talking about the hummingbird, I think about a favourite cartoon actually, it’s just a simple cartoon. And it shows a bird and a baby bird. And the mother bird or the daddy bird, whatever the raising bird says to the baby bird, you’re the universe pretending to be a bird.

[…] Actually let me just take a breath, because it’s really profound to understand that we are actually in a sort of continuum with all other life. It’s really profound because it’s so against our “normal” understanding of what individual life is. And it doesn’t mean that our individual life is somehow an illusion. It doesn’t mean that everything is one thing, [that we are actually just illusions]. There’s this tendency, in spiritual understanding, to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and to make stuff less complex, again, only in another direction, and to say, well, actually, there is no individuality. There’s only one, like big, loving universe or whatever, but it’s much more complicated.

Actually we’re living we’re living through these individuations, which burst forth, but which can only exist if they continuously transform into others, into other individuations, if they pay tribute, or if they give themselves to them. So we are real, but we’re real as being part of something which is much bigger, or “bigger” is maybe not even a good word… much, much deeper than our existence. To me, it’s so important to keep this paradoxical relationship open, because then then you can, if you acknowledge paradox, then you start to understand all these paradoxical situations in your own existence, which don’t resolve, [even] if you want to make them simple.

All sorts of relationship conundrums on the physical plane or on a relationship plane… you need to understand this paradox of being not one, not two.#

SOPHIE STRAND: I love that rejection of a kind of homogenising universalism, this idea that we’re all one. I oftentimes think of myself as… I believe in a kind of patchy pantheism, where it’s the gradients that keep things moving. It’s the differences that keep the lymph of life, the lymph of matter, moving from one being into another being. And if everything is just on the same plane, there’s no movement, there’s no life.

ANDREAS WEBER: Absolutely.

Actually, I’ll ask you something, Sophie, because I want to know something… Just to keep a little bit in this profoundly metaphysical place. I think I did this when I was two years old, or five years old. [I asked] why is this actually happening? That life itself, needs to step out of itself and differentiate, and then undergoes suffering in differentiation? That’s a profound question, actually. Why is it happening like this? And I don’t know if I’ll ever understand it, actually.

SOPHIE STRAND: I actually have a biological example. That’s been helping me understand.

ANDREAS WEBER: I’m asking you metaphysical question, and you’re giving me a biological example. That’s fantastic! Go ahead.

SOPHIE STRAND: I’ve been fascinated with the bdelloid rotifer, which is asexual and should have gone extinct but hasn’t, so they’re trying to figure out how it’s continued to remix its DNA without meiotic sex.

And one of the theories is, which I think is very interesting—I was talking about this with Bayo Akomolafe recently, as we were talking about trauma—it’s much more hardy and resilient than even the tardigrade. It can withstand intense radiation. It can be thrown out into space. It can be desiccated for 23,000 years, and then come back to life. But that these traumatic events break apart its DNA. And when it’s rehydrated the DNA restitches itself back together but incorrectly and also oftentimes, chimerically adding in other species’ DNA.

So instead of having sex, it’s these moments of fragmentation of trauma that actually create novelty and help these beings to adapt and evolve.#

So as someone who has known really intense violence and trauma that fragmented me, internally, and also fragmented me from normalcy, I’ve thought sometimes, well, when I’ve stitched myself back together, I’ve had to inappropriately take other species and plants and fungi and insects and put them back in those missing places, that it’s made me new, in a way that just normal life would not have made me new.

ANDREAS WEBER: Yeah, lovely. There is a foundational impulse which is about bringing forth life, in whose service, actually, these happenings, which might be traumatic, if you undergo them, [they] are, but it’s still a foundational impulse of giving life, I’d see it like this.

And thanks for reminding me of the rotifer, I remember from my university times the ways these animals are able to retract into something and then still need to rebuild themselves from other material. It’s also a very interesting example for the way organismic life is never pure, in the sense of having a pure lineage, to be healthy. So actually you gave an example for basically the opposite. [That is,] only by being able to recreate oneself, or to imagine oneself anew as messy, you could live.

SOPHIE STRAND: There’s a line from you about that, that I love so much, which is, to be alive is to be enmeshed in a mess that must be constantly negotiated. I have quoted you so many times about this.

ANDREAS WEBER: Thank you, thank you.

I think this is so important, because there’s a tendency in people who, somehow [are in solidarity] with “nature”, air quotes “nature”, because I don’t use that word anymore, [or] I try not to use it anymore. Because they have this feeling that there everything is ordered, and everything is somehow put in these containers in which, if it remains in these containers, everything is nice and healthy, and will go on forever. And I mean, the idea of nature is something, which if you see it from that idealistic stance, is really about everything going right. And then you say, oh, we need to go back to nature, and we only need to believe in nature and then everything will be okay.

And, if you look at it, and what you just quoted… if you look into anything alive, you will see it is messy, and it’s so important to see this. To see that life is not about being clear and clean and unambiguous. But to the contrary, and that healing comes from this contrary, and not from the fixed thing, which might be fixed binaries or fixed lines or fixed lineages. And that’s again, something which you can easily show if you just browse through libraries of empiric results, but normally biologists don’t do this, because they’re not interested in this or they don’t want to look at this.

But it’s something empirical actually. It’s not a fantasy, like the rotifer, you quoted scientific studies, actually. And I just read about the fact that, if we bring this a little bit more into the idea that life is queer at its fundamentals, I just read about biological sex in humans, and I found that—because I will cover some of this in [my course], so I need to get back on track in this—I actually discovered that all of us, in our billions of cells, we have our own cells, of the other sex.

So we have cells which are as they are, they are these X or Y chromosomes, [and sex is] defined by this. [But] we have cells of the different sex in our own bodies, like regularly, like all the time. This is really amazing, right? Because then… we already know that even that identity, which to some people might seem easy […] [but really]…

It’s not easy like this, it’s still a negotiation.#

And negotiation is always open to commands from all sides, like cultural influence, or life events, or early trauma or the trauma of your parents.

And it’s not clear. It’s not pure. Because if it was pure, we couldn’t go on imagining something anew. I find this really interesting, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you look deeper, you find a really, really messy situation. And I had some deep thoughts about myself thinking about this, [and] now I’m trying to connect with these double X cells in my body, and let’s see how I might feel very different actually, if I do this.

SOPHIE STRAND: Definitely. I just read a great book called Bitch by the zoologist Lucy Cooke, about how if we look at gender as it occurs in many other animals, it’s a very rhizomatic, strange, gooey, non-binaristic experience. And that our conflation of certain types of sex hormones, or certain types of characteristics with a certain type of sexual behavior is very incorrect…Which I love. Like hyenas who have these clitoris is that are bigger than the male hyenas’ penises, and who have more testosterone and are bigger than the male hyenas. There’s so many interesting examples that complicate our ideas of how these things happen.

For me, I like to think about [how] our bodies change our whole lives—we have to change in order to keep being alive. And so our genders, our sex, would also have to change, I would expect. I oftentimes say, let your sexuality, let your gender, lunate; let it go through cycles and change everyday and then check in and say, what am I feeling like today?

If we look at a cultural body like a traumatised body, traumatised bodies need stable value systems so that they can feel safe.

And right now, there’s so much collective ecological social trauma, that we’re very fixated on stable value systems like binaristic gender, but the truth is that underneath that there’s something much more gooey and interesting happening.#

So we should always, always complicate these stable value dualisms that we create.

ANDREAS WEBER: Yeah. I’d like to talk a little bit about trauma, because it’s also something I’ve been working on. But before [that] I wanted to just add that many, many cultures in human history, and still on Earth, they don’t only have binary sexes, they have a third sex… it’s very complicated, but they are much more flexible, actually. And many of them at least—I mean, you can’t put cultures [into boxes], you need to look at every culture but—you find many cultures who who are much more like life itself and its flexibility.

And our culture unfortunately has become so fixated with these either-or things. That’s just the fundamental [colonial] mindset, like either you’re us, or we kill you. It has so much pulled away, actually, from the way we’re breathing… It’s just a part of us which is forced to to think in these binary ways, [when] we [grew] up, but the remainder of ourselves, the workings of our flesh, and also the imaginings of our flesh, of our soul in flesh, still follow the rhizomatic ways. We can’t do any other because we immediately die. And I mean, that’s actually what’s going to happen, if we go on these binary lines.

But, concerning trauma… Actually, I built myself already a bridge, because this binary way of not acknowledging what there is, and telling, oh, no, no, this is not there. It’s different. I tell you, and if you don’t obey, I beat you. It’s to my eyes, really foundational to the culture where we are speaking from. So it’s maybe a hint to why we, why so many people don’t see the things which can be seen, and why so many people don’t look at, [or] like to look at, maybe, in depth, because trauma is somehow self-reinforcing. And it births these protective mechanisms, where you don’t have to look at that [which] causes your trauma.

So if you’re living in Western civilisation, you can’t look at the sources which somehow brought the mainstream to deny mutual transformations instead of binary oppositions and it’s so painful.

And I think we really, to understand our culture, we need to know that we are living in full trauma, in a traumatic culture—like, it’s really, really bad.#

And we somehow normalise this. So we don’t, many of us don’t think of it, but still we behave like this. And I just learned trauma actually does also bodily changes to us. It actually changes the genes by putting little things on it, like putting metyhl ends on them—[DNA] methylation.

And the interesting thing is that, I realised when I heard this, that if this happens, there is not only the protective mechanism, which stops us from doing this soul work, but there’s also a change in our DNA, so a traumatised species of Homosapiens becomes a different species. Because he has slightly different genes. This is also profound; it’s not that you can’t change it back. It goes away if you realise [how] to somehow confront this trauma, but so it’s on both sides. Again, it’s inside and it’s outside.

And these gene changes, they are inherited to our children. So I’m traumatised by the trauma my grandparents suffered in war, in the last war, I need to say, and our culture doesn’t take this into account. Mainstream people are still arguing from this, okay, we never were so well off, like [compared to] these times, and what is your problem? But it’s not at all like this.

SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah. I do think that we have crystallised the trauma debate in a way that keeps it from moving. And as someone who… I knew extraordinarily violent trauma before the age of three, and I’ve been told by that I have to spend money to come back into normalcy, and then I’ve been told that I have a genetic illness, that my brother apparently also inherited as well, but as you said, the trauma acted as some kind of catalyst to make that genetic illness manifest in me with extraordinary intensity. And then my brother who didn’t experience this early trauma didn’t [get] it. So that’s kind of like a little test example of how trauma can ignite these physical manifestations. It can wake up our genes.

But I also think that there’s a way in which the traumatised body is a doorway out of anthropocentric narratives.#

It kept my sensory gating open, in a way that other people culturally gate themselves down. We have to gate out so much stimuli in order to navigate our day to day basis that we’re gating out the aliveness of the world. But for traumatised people, their nervous system has to be awake all the time. And that can be a bad thing and it can fatigue you and it can open you up to illness. But conversely, paradoxically—because we’re going to hold the paradox—it opens you up to noticing moss and fungi and weather patterns and disturbances and phenological cascades that other people aren’t noticing.

So I sometimes want to say we are becoming, [or] I’m becoming something quite differently. I think of those first cells that ate each other to create the multicellular beings we are today. So our cells are created through this traumatic event where two cells have digested each other. And I’ve never digested the trauma, I’ve never integrated it, I’ve never healed, but there’s something about that undigested quality of the trauma in me that has forced me into a new shape, that has forced me to behave and to look at things in a different way.

So we can think of ourselves as being a traumatised population as being a problem, but if we begin to dance with that trauma in more interesting ways, maybe we will see futures that we would have never seen from the atomised individual, the atomised, untraumatised individual.

ANDREAS WEBER: Yeah. I mean, I think you’ve just described life’s way to work with that. And I also here, I really understand that you resonate a lot with Bayo Akomolafe on that, because because he’s also a profound thinker of trauma, of death, of destruction as something which we must not push aside or overcome. But somehow, let us transform in this, let itself transform through us.

I’ve read about what you wrote about Lynn Margulis’ great finding of endosymbiosis. And she was a dear colleague of my teacher, of Varela, actually, so they were somehow in the same boat. I remember when I was in undergraduate school, that she wasn’t accepted, there was still a competing theory, [so] I had to learn both. It’s relatively fresh—I mean, depending on how I look at my own age.

I just am retracing what you said, because I like how you put it. It was a disaster because one bacterium ate another one, like bacteria ate each other and even ourselves by pulling it into themselves—that’s also very interesting and making them themselves and only normally by breaking down. And this time, the bacterium was not digested, it roamed around in the other one, and then slowly, or maybe even quickly, we don’t know, became a fertile part of this… became it somehow. And now these little beings are what biologists call the mitochondria which provide us with energy or the chloroplasts [in] the green plants, so they’ve actually absolutely crucial roles.

And they still have to do with eating or being eaten, in a way. It’s about energy. It’s about keeping us alive.

And I mean, isn’t that poetic? What life made from a catastrophe?#

Isn’t that absolutely beautiful? Although there was no optimists hanging around and saying, just keep a stiff upper lip and make the best of it, it was fully undergoing this! And then, but still keeping an eye on life. Not in a conscious way, but I mean, preferencing life and not what is happening to my individuality, because life will come forth with the solution, will come forth with something which can be given, let’s put it like this.

It’s very, very profound. But also to trust this really means to not know, because you can’t sell people healing by knowing and telling them okay, now you need to do this, and undergo this pain and now you have to die in this manner, and then you will for sure… You can’t do this. Because you don’t know—we don’t know. Because there’s something which, by desiring for existence, lures this forth, which is not controllable. So it’s actually about trust, about letting go and delivering ourselves to life. And again, believing in the liveness more than believing in our own sovereignty.

SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah, everything underlined. But I think we need these deep time frames, to help us understand that we’re never going to techno-narcissistic, figure out how to exit this, we’re never going to be able to plan and optimise human survival. That we are part of a grand, respiratory… the Earth, going through all of these different extinction events that then create a bottleneck where other species diversify. I was talking to Tammy the other day about how we’re the product of an extinction event.

The open space opened up by an extinction event is what created us, that our precise morphology and flavour only comes into being because of these niches [that] are opened up, that then have to be filled again. So we have to sometimes pull back and realise that we don’t understand.

This event can look like the apocalypse, but to the general aliveness of the Earth, it looks like just another experimental day.#

ANDREAS WEBER: Yeah. There is a quote from Richard Powers, I always remember, which is hard to digest. But it’s basically that nature has nothing against extinction, because she works with it. And that’s hard to digest, unless you somehow surrender to being this force as well. So if you’re just somehow just the on the side which is constantly rearranged, without having any connection with that which arranges, then it becomes very frightening, in a way. But I think that there is a direct line, or maybe you could also say there’s a remote chamber in our heart, where we are this power, who is without knowing, always letting creation burst forth.

So we’re absolutely connected to this, only, it’s a connection that we cannot manage, like our civilisation decided we need to manage everything. We cannot manage it in any way. We can only keep it alive by nourishing it, and we need to nourish it with ourselves. But it won’t annihilate ourselves because in this remote place, we are just this. And, at this point, it becomes a mystery. And I think this is a mystery, which actually will remain a mystery. It won’t be bridgeable, because to bridge that, would mean that we somehow would acquire somehow, control over this. And we won’t. We will never. So this will never happen.

In the same way as life cannot be extinguished, life cannot be killed, because life is the way reality gives itself forth. So it can’t die. And in the same way, we won’t know. This combination, of having this so close, and on the other hand of never actually being absolutely able to control it and even to rationally grasp it, brings us in a very good position, I think, because then we can surrender, wholeheartedly, happily, because we know surrendering doesn’t mean that we somehow disappear, we somehow lose grips. We’ll just stay in the middle only in a way that that we have no control about.

And in the situations in my life where I managed to do this, it was always great. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. But it was making me more alive, actually. And that’s another thing our civilisation doesn’t know at all. And I think it’s a way to somehow cope with that, with that historical place we’re in right now, because this is very much about the big wheels turning, and without any real control of humans. So that’s a time where this false dream will go to rest, but this rest will also be not easy. It won’t be sweet. It will also be a meal, in a way, a composting, a huge composting.

SOPHIE STRAND: It’s interesting.

I think that when death happens in a way that is sewn into food webs, it’s the moment when a singular aliveness is poured… it leaks past a singular aliveness into a polyphony of aliveness.#

I remember watching a deer’s body decompose and become not just one deer story, but bacterial, fungal, beetles—many different stories. So death is the moment when life overflows its cup and gets too big for one shape. But the problem I think, with the way we’re living right now is that we don’t know how to make ourselves food.

There’s a part of your course, I think, about becoming edible. And I think about that a lot, as someone who… I am actively decaying at a much faster rate than most people, there’s no cure, there’s no way to stop that process. But how can I recontextualise this process into becoming good soil? How can I think about my life and my actual body as being the soil to grow something else, rather than as being an end in and of itself?

We put bodies in the ground filled with chemicals, and then in concrete encasements, so they can’t enter back into the foodweb. So it would seem to me right now that something that we’re being asked to do, is very literally how to make ourselves food, and also how to learn how to eat the shit that we create. We create so much pollution, so much toxic sludge, that we don’t weave back into food webs, that we don’t tailor to another being’s appetite. So how can we begin to reweave these food webs again, that we’ve deconstructed?

ANDREAS WEBER: Yeah, I love this becoming good soil. And if somebody asked you, how shall I love? I think that would be an appropriate answer. Become good soil. And if you do it, I mean, I’m really serious, I’m not [talking] metaphorically, but really literally. And you see, this would be one of these Zen conundrums, where the one who asked was like, what? But if you really literally do this, then this is a process of love.

And it’s a process of love, not only because it’s good to become good soil, but it’s a process of love, because you allow your own aliveness, by allowing the aliveness of others, or you’re creating your own story, just to use your words Sophie, by letting the others create their stories.

And that’s in my eyes, a practice of love.#

It’s absolutely concrete. It’s not metaphorical. I think it would really be an exercise, it would be really hard to do this. And that’s just the problem. I mean, we talked about the traumatic heritage. Because we’re so remote from this.

I think this is why I’m so much in love with Indigenous cultures, traditional cultures, because in so many respects, they just do this, becoming good soil, and by this also building relationships on the level of the human heart and on the level of the heart of every living person. It sounds paradoxical, but you can’t evade that by making yourself alive in a way that enables aliveness to go on, then you’ll be a loving person. And that will help life again, in a way. I’ll keep this in mind when somebody asks me—I’ll come with this, Sophie’s practical idea [of] first becom[ing] good soil.

SOPHIE STRAND: And also don’t let life stagnate and let it keep moving. I think about that with ideas too, like we have such an idea of authorship. But the truth is that for most of human culture, storytelling, knowledge, was oral, relational, and it never belonged to a single person.

ANDREAS WEBER: I’m sorry, I’m interrupting you, because I just want to claim this. It’s absolutely horrible. It’s so horrible. You know, you remember at the beginning, when Tammy was [saying that well, somehow, we echo each other and sounds the same] and then we somehow untangled authorship in a way, but actually traditional cultures never do this. Because we are in service of life. And life is important and not who is doing it. You’re totally right. And that’s again, this traumatic, narcissistic, how did you call it techno-narcissistic way of…

SOPHIE STRAND: Of siloing our minds, our ideas.

ANDREAS WEBER: Yes! You need to do better than the others, otherwise you won’t survive. Otherwise, you can’t protect yourself… It’s absolutely crazy. It never happened before, in hundreds of, thousands of, or even millions of years of the existence of humans, that never happened, it only happened now. And at the same time, this authorship is so important. The service for that which carries us all has become absolutely non-[existent]. I mean, this is absolutely outrageous if you really start to dig into this more deeply. It becomes so absurd. So that was just my claim.

SOPHIE STRAND: Well, I think me and Andreas could talk for probably, for hours, maybe much longer than that. So I just want to check in to see if there’s anything you would like us to round off with.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): No, I feel like I was just ticking it off as you went. And it’s so funny, because I feel like all the questions that I came with were totally answered, but in a completely… I couldn’t even imagine how it would all be infused together. Perhaps to round this off, I feel like the only final thought that I wanted to bring in more directly would be, I would love for you both to talk about love. I feel like there were bits and pieces of it in the conversation, but I would love to give it a little airtime.

ANDREAS WEBER: Tammy, the secret is we talked about love all the time.

SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah, the whole thing was about love.

ANDREAS WEBER: But I was actually thinking, will anyone recognise it? Tammy, could you ask it a little bit more concretely?

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Yes. So I think I’m really interested in Andreas, your framing of the ecological Eros. And I think that’s really the key idea that I wanted to unpack.

ANDREAS WEBER: One idea is that living your aliveness in the way it truly is, amounts to a process of love. Because loving means to be in a mutual transformation in the way that the other becomes alive while you become alive yourself. That would be my mini definition of love. So it’s a practice, it’s not a nice feeling. It’s a practice. And this is actually what happens in ecosystems. Sophie, you described that in the [story] of the deer decomposing. That’s how ecosystems function. Only that in our binary, [colonial] vision we have said, oh, this is only about survival. But it’s about mutual transformation in order to let individuals tell their life stories.

And I can also say something about love between partners on the human plane, but I’ll do [that] in the course. Now [we don’t have much time]. But I want to bring in the erotic, this might have been a little bit underrepresented here today. Well, actually Eros is about something inside, experiential, linked to a body you touch, or a body you enter into, or you transform into. So it has to do with the relationship of the inner experience and the materiality.

This whole process is erotic to its core.#

And when we were talking about composting, and decomposition, and Sophie, no idea how much you’re with me here, but I would say these are all erotic encounters, only that we completely pushed Eros to this little, human way of thinking about sex. But it’s vastly more.

SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah, absolutely. I think Eros for me is appetite, it is that lack in me, that enchains me to another body. And I think about the initial bacteria, chemo-sensing their way towards sweetness. The first sense is keyed by appetite. It is a movement towards sweetness. And it’s that appetite for me, that is Eros, that it is our need to consume, to keep being, that enchains us to other bodies.

You say that life has a tendency to create a meshwork of bodies. And that seems to me to be the Eros of life. And that usually doesn’t look like two human beings making love and then leaving each other. It doesn’t look like a discrete experience. It’s often permanent. It’s mycorrhizal fungi and plants creating an endosymbiotic merger that then never disappears. Most lovemaking is permanent and destroys the species that are involved.

So I think for me, appetite is the core of love.#

That it is this gnawing sense in matter, that it needs something else in order to keep moving. I love the word haptikos, haptics, to touch, which also means to enchain. I like the stickiness of that word, of that Greek word, to touch, because what it says is everything we touch, we are enchained with, we sediment into it, that nothing we touch, do we ever leave.

ANDREAS WEBER: Yeah. So actually, the human encounter, the sexual encounter is something which will remain with you all the time, only people tend to forget this. They tend to think no, actually, it hasn’t been anything, it was just, I already forgot about it. But it’s not true, it also stays with you all the time. So, this is why you need to be much more careful with this, because it will stay with you all the time, on the level of entanglement from the inside, but also on an embodied level.

So, after you spoke, I think I’d extend this idea of Eros actually to life’s desire to bring forth, extending on this sensual plane. So actually, everything emanating from life’s desire to bring forth is Eros. So the power to bring forth is Eros. So you see it is… this is a profound force. It’s nothing to mess with, just from a hedonistic standpoint, I’m getting this little sweet stuff out of it, and then I’ll leave it and go away. You can’t do [that]. And in Greek myth, Eros was a god. And it’s the God of creating, of bringing forth.

SOPHIE STRAND: Yeah. I was reading someone who was saying that every time two people meet something is born, that there’s a third element, that every encounter, be it physical or spiritual, creates a child. And you have to be careful about those encounters. Even passing encounters with people will gestate some third element. Even in these digital encounters there is something that’s born.

ANDREAS WEBER: Yeah, absolutely.

SOPHIE STRAND: And what strange offspring we have created. Thank you, Andreas.

Sophie Strand #

Sophie is a writer based in the Hudson Valley who focuses on the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, & ecology. But it would probably be more authentic to call her a neo-troubadour animist with a propensity to spin yarns that inevitably turn into love stories. Her first book of essays The Flowering Wand: Lunar Kings, Lichenized Lovers, Transpecies Magicians, and Rhizomatic Harpists Heal the Masculine is forthcoming in 2022. She is currently researching a mythopoetic exploration of ecology and queerness in the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde.

Read Sophie Strand’s profile

Andreas Weber #

Andreas is a Berlin based author & independent scholar. He has degrees in Marine Biology & Cultural Studies, having collaborated with theoretical biologist Francisco Varela in Paris. Andreas’ work is focusing on a re-evaluation of our understanding of the living. He is proposing to understand organisms as subjects & hence the biosphere as a meaning-creating & poetic reality. Andreas is the author of Enlivenment. Toward a Poetics for the Anthropocene, & Sharing Life: The Ecopolitics of Reciprocity.

Read Andreas Weber’s profile

Tammy Gan #

Tammy Gan is the Head of Content and Storytelling at Advaya.

Read Tammy Gan’s profile