Martin Savransky: Around the Day in Eighty Worlds (2021)
What a stirring read … This not standard academic fare, but a scintillating, 130-page long prose poem that revolves around one big, touchingly beautiful idea: the pluriverse. By and large this concept foregrounds a view that reality is fundamentally plural and diverse, rather than singular and unified.
Emergence of the pluriverse
Google’s n-gram viewer situates the emergence of this concept somewhere around the start of World War I. There’s a mysterious spike in frequency in the mid-1960s. And from the early 21st century onward it shoots up exponentially. Walter Mignolo situates its emergence in the Zapatista uprising in the 1990s. The connection with the Zapatista call for “a world where many worlds fit” has been acknowledged by most authors. Recently Arturo Escobar mainstreamed the notion through his influental book Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. As a result is has become a household term in decolonial critical theory.
Pluriverse is always plural
It is very likely that there is a dominant conception of the pluriverse which seeks to rescue cosmopolitan ideals — say, the given of global citizenship, the celebration of cultural diversity, and respect for universal human rights — from the Western discourses in which they are inscribed. It envisions an aspirational pluriversal project “of deracialization and depatriarchization, food sovereignty, reciprocal economic organization and definancialization, spiritual liberation and aesthetic decolonization” in the name of a revitalised planetary democracy that is able to counter the modernist and capitalist monification of the world.
However, this book proposes another take on the issue. Because isn’t there a dangerous paradox embedded in a way of thinking that fixates the pluriverse “under the tight grip of a categorical imperative”, even if that imperative is nominally pluralist? Savransky steers away from this catch-22 by invoking a radical ontological pluralism.
A monist metaphysics eats the world
Savransky sees the Western imperalist project of the past 500 years rooted in and supported by an impoverished monist metaphysics that saw (and sees) the world as fundamentally orderly, and offered a licence to align the laws of nations with the laws of nature. The modern realism that trails in the wake of this “metaphysics of the one-world world” (John Law) functions as a ‘massive disqualification’ machine that relegates everything that doesn’t fit in this picture — the extraordinary, the implausible and the fantastic — to the domain of the superstitious and the symbolic.
The texture of the world that is conjured by Savransky is thoroughly pluralist, and as a result necessarily unfinished, lacunar, hesitant, fleeting, frayed, improvisatory. His version of the pluriverse is one that diverges with itself all the way down, and renders differences irreducible and uncontainable. Which doesn’t mean that it’s all chaos. This pluriverse connects the “one” and “many” through divergence, “… its ongoing insistence is in the form of partial stories, of loosely connected and disconnected realities, of eighty or a thousand “little hangings-together” in continuous processes of unification here, and pluralization there, without amounting to an encompassing unification yet, or perhaps ever.”
A politics of the possible
This view anchors a philosophical and political project (a “politics of the possible”) that challenges the anti-realism of deconstructivist critique and goes beyond the analytical stratagems of other contemporary ontological pluralisms (such as object-oriented ontology). It is a “pluriverse against all odds” that asks us to yield to a trust in the generative capacity of the world. But that trust, that belief “is not for all that a matter of instantaneous conversion. It is instead more akin to the piecemeal, experimental, and situated process of cultivating an art — curiously noticing, errantly looking for signs, developing an entire new mode of appreciation for that which, generously and generatively, is in the process of making itself felt.”
Trusting the possibility of another world
Barring the transcendental horizon there is something of the Kierkegaardian leap in Savransky’s thinking. Or perhaps we need to reference the dry-eyed and ecstatic flavour of Nietzsche’s amor fati and eternal return. Here is a somewhat longer citation that speaks to the groundless, precipitous and potentially futile nature of this polyversal venture (and gives a feel for the supple texture of the author’s prose):
“ … trusting the possibility of another world underway and yet-to-be-made is vital, perhaps even the most vital function that our lives in this world might have to perform. But it also makes present that doing so authorizes nothing. It provides no definition of how the good common world ought to be, and it warns us against giving in to the temptation of dreaming of a world that, once made, would bring the facts of struggle to an end. The pluriverse must be made, even when it won’t get made. Indeed, it is almost as if the vital task of composing other worlds in the wake of what has happened to us would only succeed, as sheer activity, by espousing as a political vocation the indefinite failure that simultaneously upends and subtends its project. As if taking the risk of setting out to fail might one day, by apposition rather than opposition, turn failure into its opposite, linking the imperative of struggling for another possible world with the very insistence on staying alive to an ongoing experimentation with worlds in the making. Such is the insistence of the pluriverse in the still of the night, gaping open the world on the edges of every world-vision, drawing it into the hold of perhaps.”
“Nothing is more delicate than the institutionalisation of hope.”
Savransky unfolds his argument by triangulating with the pragmatist philosophy of William James, who, early in the 20th century already defended the idea of a pluralistic universe, and a series of contemporary ‘cases’ or stories that give a flavour of where these pluralistic adventures might lead us. The locales are exotic but the worlds conjured by them are real.
The Belgian novelist and poet Stefan Hertmans recently published a collection of essays on the theme of “Transitions” (Verschuivingen). At one point a sentence leaps out: “Nothing is more delicate than the institutionalisation of hope.” In my review of the book I characterised this as “a dazzlingly beautiful, and tragic task”. It seems Savransky picks up where Hertmans stops and gives voice and texture to this critical work.
More to read in the Systems Library:
Vol. 27: Hilary Bradbury: How to Do Action Research for Transformations (2022)
Vol. 21: Henk Oosterling: Resistance in Times of Ecopanic (2020)
Vol. 20: Ray Ison & Ed Straw: The Hidden Power of Systems Thinking (2020)
Vol. 19: Andreas Weber: Enlivenment (2019)
Vol. 18: Luc Hoebeke: Making Work Systems Better (1994)
Vol. 17: Donella Meadows: Thinking in Systems (2009)
Vol. 10: Edgar Schein: Humble Inquiry (2013)