Summer 2016: The World's a Mess; Let's Teach Complexity Awareness- And "On the Exterranean" is done.
It’s been a terrible summer. That’s an understatement.
On June 23, 2016, 51.89% of the British electorate voted to leave the European Union in the shameful shambles known as Brexit, which lead to the pound falling to its lowest value in thirty years, the resignations of the British Prime Minister David Cameron and of the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, a new Prime Minister, Theresa May who elected Boris Johnson to the post of Foreign Secretary—so that he could keep on insulting the world on behalf of the UK… It’s a catastrophe for the UK, its economy, its politics, and ethics. It’s also a personal catastrophe for so many folks who grew up, like me, never having not been European—our passports used to open up nearly thirty countries; we grew up learning European languages, making European friends and lovers; building our personal and professional lives around being European. That all ended. The future for the UK is not bright.
In July, the police shot dead Alton Sterling in Louisiana; the police shot dead Philando Castile as he reached for his driver’s license, as he had been asked—his girlfriend live-streamed the whole thing; the police shot a black Florida man, Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist caring for his autistic patient, who, was lying down on the floor with his arms up; a terrorist driving a truck killed more than eighty people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice; a terrorist in Germany armed with an axe and a knife injured four people on a train, followed by the shooting at a Shopping Mall in Bavaria—nine killed and twenty-one people dead, by a machete-killing in Reutlingen (one dead) and an explosion at a German music festival, which killed one man and injured twelve; much blood was shed during and after a coup d’état in Turkey; a priest was killed during an ISIS-sponsored hostage-taking situation in Rouen; and on and on and on. Meanwhile, the US presidential elections go from bad to worse. Little need be said of Trump—Brexit proves he could get elected, that the worst could happen. There are various camps of people who will likely vote for HRC, from the lovers to the haters, but the DNC’s crooked and dishonest support for her, as shown in the Wikileaks’ release of DNC emails, sully this second convention.
All summer, it’s been a slow erasure of that easy response: “Well, yes, this place is a mess, at least there’s….”—but no, all the places I call home are a total mess. Which has made it particularly trying to keep thinking about global warming, about the Anthropocene, to keep writing about that—yet we must. If the summer’s left me one thought beyond despair, it’s the thought that education is the only way forward for the world. Whether you study Physics of 8th-century German poetry, whether you’re into the history of optics or cancer research, whatever you study, you’re going to be less likely to accept other people’s opinions, to ignore when facts don’t fit together, and more likely to think for yourself, to learn how to disagree with people in a way that doesn’t demand a gun or a machete. Education’s main goal—and main takeaway—is the realization that there are no simple answers, that things are complex, and that if someone is offering you a simple solution, it’s probably the wrong one.
I finished my book on extraction, “On the Exterranean”—it’s now with a publisher. Watch this space.
Big fan of Evariste Richer’s work “Fulgurite” (2008), seen at the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris this weekend. When lighting—very hot lightening—strikes silica or other common (semi-)conductive minerals or substrates, it creates a fulgurite (<Lat. fulgur = lightening), strangely shaped rock-like objects. But here, the fulgurite is crossed through by a beautifully industrial blue neon tube. The museum notice sees in all this an emblem of Latour’s nature/culture problem…
They’re gone. There are no more of those rodents known as Bramble Cay melomys (or alternatively as mosaic-tailed rats). They are extinct. The Guardian notes that this event is “the first recorded extinction of a mammal anywhere in the world thought to be primarily due to human-caused climate change.” Last seen in 2009, and after extensive searches, these Bramble Cay melomys have been judged gone, once and forever. A moment to remember that to still talk of the “environment” is to perpetuate the problem, as Michel Serres argued long ago, for the word “assumes that we humans are at the center of a system of nature” and thus that we look out and see “the” environment suffering. Ecology, Ecology, Ecology is the way to go.
Remember this? "Now it’s really time to get serious about climate change"
The Guardian reports today on the Carbfix project: "The new research pumped CO2 into the volcanic rock under Iceland and sped up a natural process where the basalts react with the gas to form carbonate minerals, which make up limestone. The researchers were amazed by how fast all the gas turned into a solid – just two years, compared to the hundreds or thousands of years that had been predicted."
The Guardian reports--in a thoroughly anthropocentric mode--how spiders, too, become climate refugees as tens of thousands of spiders engage in a "mass ballooning event" in an attempt to fine a region's remaining dry spots.
The Guardian reports on how "The Louvre's closure proves art cannot survive climate change."
We are, indeed, at a moment of generic toppling. By which I mean: as I spoke about at the recent "Epic Geographies" conference: if weather belongs to novels, then climate belongs to epic. So as climate appears in our weather, "we" are shifting surely from novel to epic. This is what it means when the Guardian headlines today that "Meteorologists are seeing global warming's effect on the weather"; this is what it means when Parisians stare on at the Seine, reaching its highest level since 1910 (see here). We leave the novelistic to head into epic, i.e. each gesture, each moment, is as if held onto by Poseidon's trident or Hera's anger or Zeus's lack of libido-control. And there is no way to calm it all with a "banquet des dieux."
George Eustice grew up at, and worked for (for 9 years), a fruit farm--this fruit farm, in fact. It's a farm where you can "pick you own," something I did a lot as a kid growing up in England. The Trevaskis fruit farm says that "Even if the rain sets in, welly boots and puddles are great" (see their website). In 2000, he promoted the "No" vote regarding whether or not the UK should adopte the euro as its official currency. And now, and now, he is the farming minister in the Conservative party. And he can't wait for the UK to leave Europe--so that the UK can get rid of those pesky European environmental laws: "If we had more flexibility, we could focus our scientists’ energies on coming up with new, interesting ways to protect the environment, rather than just producing voluminous documents from Brussels" (source: Guardian). As the Guardian reports, Eustice wants to bring US-style environmental politics to the UK: "On pesticides, Eustice said the EU’s precautionary principle needed to be reformed in favour of a US-style risk-based approach, allowing faster authorisation." In other words: a Brexit would likely spell many things--but it would surely mark the end of a communal approach to ecology. A fruit farm-- it sounds nice, right? "Pick your own"--who doesn't love that? I remember as a kid, picking strawberries, walking on hay, and wondering why I got these sores on my arms. Fabulous. Yes. More of that please.
The Guardian brings good news and bad news: (1) that "With women at the top, UN climate body has chance for real change"; and (2) how "fracking can contribute to climate change" as seen from the emissions measured atop the Swiss Alps.
Harambe, a western lowland gorilla, was shot dead on Friday in Cincinnati after a 4-year-old boy got into its enclosure. Articles and Facebook posts have proliferated (like this one from Time), most of them either (1) wholly anthropocentric, or (2) wholly gorilla-centric, asserting something like (1) we have to protect the child or (2) we should have protected the gorilla. The child's mother has been harassed. Comments on Twitter were equally mean and lacking critical distance. A Facebook page has been set up in support of the mother (Michelle Gregg). The whole tragic affair reminded me of the Australian ecofeminist Val Plumwood's experience--she was almost eaten by a crocodile, an experience she recounts in several places, most fully in the posthumous Eye of the crocodile (read it for free here). The situation is obviously different, and we can't confuse the two, but critical distance is what's needed.
Giving Twitter a try. From now on, all new blog posts will also be posted to Twitter.
Follow here: https://twitter.com/h_anthropocene
Very happy to see this project for a new co-edited volume off the ground. Pauline Goul and myself, inspired by the fabulous work of Louisa Mackenzie, are putting this new volume together. We already have a pretty fabulous list of participants, but want to make sure that we don't miss anything. If you're up for it, please send us a proposal.
Reposting the CFP put on Fabula.org:
What Can the French Renaissance Do For Ecocriticism?
Editors Pauline Goul and Phillip John Usher
The present volume seeks to offer a set of answers to the question raised by its title, “What Can the French Renaissance Do For Ecocriticism?”
All too often, theory in general--and ecocriticism in particular--are said to serve as “lenses” through which we can understand (early modern) literature. All too often, contemporary thought models are “applied” to (early modern) literature, as if true lay only in the contemporary. This volume’s purpose is to envision a back-and-forth, to allow (early modern French) literature to interrogate, to nuance, to provoke, contemporary ecological theory. Our volume’s title owes it concise formulation to Louisa Mackenzie, who first identified that question as pertinent at the Vancouver MLA conference in January 2015. Mackenzie, a scholar at the cutting edge of French Renaissance Studies in the United States, suggested that we should not be asking what ecocriticism can “do” for our readings of the early modern period, but precisely the opposite. Indeed, turning back to 16th century France means shifting to an intellectual context in which key concepts—nature/culture, geology, Deep Time, etc.—were thought in ways uncannily similar to contemporary thought, precisely because certain disciplinary “splits” and intellectual conceptualization had not yet happened, precisely because certain disciplines (e.g. geology) were nascent, but not born. This volume seeks to take seriously Mackenzie’s question and to offer a set of responses. Each chapter of the volume will take up a specific concept or idea of contemporary ecocriticism, in order to question it and refine it.
Possible concepts/ideas to address include:
-Chakrabarty’s idea of putting Deep Time in dialogue with the human time of history
-Morton’s Dark Ecology
-the nonhuman and objects, Morton’s hyperobjects, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter
-inter-relatedness and the mesh
-logocentrism / anthropocentrism
-the Anthropocene in 1600
Another reason this volume is so urgent is that it will offer a much needed response to the anglocentrism of much ecocriticism, denounced by Tim Morton in his guest column in PMLA on a “Queer Ecology”, and yet made especially clear of late (in 2016) when the MLA’s new forum on "Ecocriticism and the Environmental Humanities,” whose executive committee is made up of Sharon O’Dair, Stacy Alaimo, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, and Stephanie LeMenager, all professors of English, defined ecocriticism as "a scholarly practice within English Studies." Jeff Persel’s fabulous edited volume The Environment in French and Francophone Literature (FLS, vol 39, 2012), makes it evidently clear that ecocrticism is not, of course, limited in such a way to English departments! A related problem is that, even when considered as anglo-centric, ecocriticism as a discipline seems to be formulated mostly by voices that either look at post-1800 sources or at medieval ones. There is thus a gaping lack of any early modern point of view, which, especially with the possible starting date of the Anthropocene in 1600, leaves much to be done. This volume will thus assert and demonstrate the need for ecocriticism and ecological thought to take up and respond to non-English materials from the early modern period. In the words of Louisa Mackenzie in her article in the French Literature Series’s ‘Environment’ issue (2012), “It’s a good time to think about an early modern, a French, a queer ecology.”
The book will be in English, and the submission of chapters is set for May 30, 2017.
Please submit a title, 300-word abstract, and a short CV to Pauline Goul (email@example.com) and Phillip John Usher (firstname.lastname@example.org) by June 20, 2016.
Project THE HUMANIST anthropocene
is a thought archive and workspace of Phillip John Usher (NYU) at the crossroads of early modern humanism and the problems and insights of the Anthropocene. Main Research Page.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment)
Environmental Humanities (journal)
Resilience (A Journal of the Environmental Humanities)
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