I watched, not for the first time, this film tonight. It's one of the saddest monuments of where we're at.
Just saw James Crump’s Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art (2015) at IFC, which chronicles the rise of land art in the 1960s-70s, a rise that involved (as this film tells it) an almost schizophrenic relationship to NYC: land art grew from there, and was discussed there, but “happened” elsewhere. In a sense, the film captured something, too, it didn’t mean to: it showed land art, it showed artists working with land/earth as medium; it also showed them embroiled in the micropolitics of the (NYC) art world, and more importantly something of the tension between the earth/land as medium and the other media that go with making that medium known, in the land art sense. Very interesting.
Particularly featured are a number of still extant works:
-Robert Smithon’s Spiral Jetty (1970) in Utah
-Nany Holt’s Sun Tunnels in Utah (self-guide)
-Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1970) in Utah
-Water de Maria’s 1km*1km Lightning Field
One of the questions that returns through the film, and which comes up right at the end also, concerns the specificity of land art, i.e. can we take a photo, or make a film about it, without flattening it, without returning the work back to the space of the gallery and the art book? The Getty’s attempt to offer access to Spiral Jetty via a 360 degree panorama, via a time-lapse video, etc. is a case in point: without it, I would have much less of an idea of what SJ is- but what kind of access is this?
Was interesting to watch this the same day that I came across an article in the Guardian about Shodan, a search engine that searches not the web, but the Internet of Things, such as webcams of sleeping babies and, even more alarmingly, critical systems such as SCADA environments connected to power plants and suchlike- there is, here, a strangely similar question of the concrete and the virtual, the medium and the media, town and city, here and there.
Act 1: Have been reading (about) the fabulous work of Heather Davis (Penn State) on the topic of plastic, thought to be malleable, but which has a life span of 100,000 years: “By existing outside of the time frame of biological life, plastic brings with it a kind of undead quality that exists in opposition to the biological binary of life and death, and spreading this reign throughout all the ecosystems it interacts with.” (source)
Act 2: Reading about, then watching, the film Cowspiracy (2014), about factory farming, now streaming on Netflix. Methane is much worse than CO2-- ride a bike, then eat a steak? Best to drive to the falafel shop, then. 660 gallons of water to make one hamburger. Why is the issue not foregrounded? Watch the film.
Storm Jonas, which has brought a foot of snow to Manhattan today, is making it hard to see much at all out of the window- everything is white. A good time to revisit the work of the Danish-Icelandic Olafur Eliasson, especially (1) his Weather Project, back in 2003 at the Tate Modern; and (2) his recent project, Ice Watch, in Paris during COP21: 80 tons of ice shipped from Greenland to the Place du Panthéon, to make global warming visible in the heart of Europe.
If we turn to the 1974 book Ecumenopolis, the Inevitable City of the Future, we move from a city like Islamabad to the ecumenopolis. The founding thought is that there are “no more isolated city-states” (6). The first example given is now Singapore: “Singapore is certainly not the thriving city it is today because of the 578 square kilometers which represent the actual area of its state; it world trade declines, Singapore cannot go on existing in its present form” (6) (Google Map Image).
The point is not just however that the ecumenopolis is bigger- it is also that the ecumenopolis is, at base, biological, for it’s “basic genetic material […] is Anthropos” (6). Settlements are processes and systems in “a continuous state of flux” (7). This means looking at the city with an eye and an ear for biology and for time, which lead Doxiadis to propose the new discipline of ekistics, “the study of human settlements [and] their dynamic and evolutionary processes” (7). Doxiadis’s idea of human settlements is precisely that, focused on the human—like Protogoras, Doxiadis claims “Man is the measure of all things” (8)—ekistics thus studies “the factors which make a settlement successful in human terms” (8). His thought relies on the possibility of seeing Anthropos separate from the “background of his life” (8). In fact, ekistics relies on the so-called “five ekistic elements” which are: Nature/Anthropos/Society/Shells/Networks (9). It is from this that the idea of the ecumenopolis springs: it is the 15th of the units defined by ekistics, going in scale from Anthropos to “global system (whole planet) or Ecumenopolis” (10). Interestingly, this is posited as the city of the future: “when we come to think about the future of 250 years hence, we see that nothing less than the area of the whole earth will do” (20) (see graph below!). This futurity now strikes us as strange—the ecumenopolis is not a when, but a what and it is clearly, as Doxiadis knew, an ecological what: “as human activity increases, our oceans, our atmosphere and our climates are placed in increasing jeopardy, and the need for a global response becomes a clear ecological imperative” (21). The ecumenopolis is “the universal settlement towards which our whole evolution is leading” (36). Doxiadis provides a rather strange map of this.
What then do we take from this? The ecumenopolis, for Doxiadis, more an idea of what will happen than a concept for thinking. The Anthropos is King here. No Deep ecology here—and perhaps not even an ecology. The ecumenopolis is not Morton’s mesh. It is perhaps its flip side, it’s “bandaid,” the mesh submitted to human mastery. Perhaps we can reclaim the term—by making it strange, by recasting Doxiadis’s Anthropos as Morton’s “strange stranger.” We shall see. Going forward then, let us always think of the word "ecumenopolis" as pronounced in the video above--i.e. by a voice that is almost, but not quite, familiar as human, a voice that is almost familiar, uncanny.
Discovered the new (to me) ecocritical series from the University of Virginia Press, Under the Sun of Nature. I look forward to reading:
-Jesse Oak Taylor’s The Sky of Our Manufacture: The London Fog in British Fiction from Dickens to Woolf, described as follows on the website: “In The Sky of Our Manufacture, Jesse Oak Taylor uses the many depictions of the London fog in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novel to explore the emergence of anthropogenic climate change.”
-Adam Trexler’s Anthropocene Fictions- The Novel in a Time of Climate Change: “Drawing on climatology, the sociology and philosophy of science, geography, and environmental economics, Adam Trexler argues that the novel has become an essential tool to construct meaning in an age of climate change.”
-Dan Brayton’s Shakespeare's Ocean: An Ecocritical Exploration: “Shakespeare lived during a time of great expansion of geographical knowledge. The world in which he imagined his plays was newly understood to be a sphere covered with water. In vital readings of works ranging from The Comedy of Errors to the valedictory The Tempest, Brayton demonstrates Shakespeare’s remarkable conceptual mastery of the early modern maritime world and reveals a powerful benthic imagination at work.”
-Mark Allister (ed.)’s Eco-Man: New Perspectives on Masculinity and Nature: “Many canonical literary works—think of Thoreau, Melville, Hemingway, Faulkner—look to the wild as the site for establishing a man’s selfhood. But nature is just as often subjected to his most violent displays of mastery. This tension lies at the heart of Eco-Man, which brings together two rapidly growing fields: men’s studies and ecocriticism.”
-Stephen Adams’ The Best and Worst Country in the World: Perspectives on the Early Virginia Landscape: “Drawing upon both familiar history and lesser-known material from deep geological time through the end of the seventeenth century, Stephen Adams focuses on both the physical changes to the land over time and the changes in the way people viewed Virginia. The Best and Worst Country in the World reaches well beyond previous accounts of early American views of the land with the inclusion of fascinating and important pre-1700 sources, Native American perceptions, and prehuman geography and geology.”
Spotted at the MLA and now on the reading list: Robert P. Marzec’s Militarizing the Environment- Climate Change and the Security State (Minnesota, 2015).
“As the seriousness of climate change becomes more and more obvious, military institutions are responding by taking a prominent role in the governing of environmental concerns, engaging in “climate change war games,” and preparing for the effects of climate change—from conflicts due to loss of food, water, and energy to the mass migration of millions of people displaced by rising sea levels. This combat-oriented stance stems from a self-destructive pattern of thought that Robert P. Marzec names “environmentality,” an attitude that has been affecting human–environmental relations since the seventeenth century.” Summary from here.
Cassandra Laity (University of Tennessee Knoxville), spoke on “Feminist Geophilia: Modernist Love Poetry’s 'Rock Roses' and Darwin’s Beagle Geology,” as part of an ongoing “geologic turn.” The question here is geophilia in Darwin and Bishop. Darwin’s travel narrative geologizes (e.g. the Andes mountains) (cf. Petrarch!). Bishop’s “Vague poem” then here responds to Darwin, recasting, re-gendering it—this is her own geo-Darwinian travel narrative, where an Oklahoma rock-scape (the rose rocks) “is” her beloved’s body (vagina) (again, landscape first, people second), combining bio- and geo- forces, opening up ways to think about how to start displacing the man-ness of the (M)Anthropocene. Source of "rock rose" image to left.
Zach Horton [website here; recent film here] (Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) spoke on: “Nineteenth-Century Geoengineering: The Speculative Climatology of John Ruskin and Jules Verne.” Suggests that discourses of geo-engineering appeared in the 1980s (space mirrors, carbon-dioxide scrubbers, stratospheric aerosol injection, etc.), to cool the Earth down. Much of these projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But Horton suggests that, even if the word wasn’t around, the idea of geoengineering is much older. Discussion of Ruskin (fascinated by weather—as the Cloud Appreciation Society notes, too!)—his vision of a climate-engineered British empire; then of Jules Vernes’ Sans dessus dessous (WP).
Some notes on MLA panel #752 on “Anthropocenic Agency in the Nineteenth Century” (Sunday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 8C, ACC).
Siobhan Carroll (Univ. of Delaware), author of An Empire of Air and Water- Uncolonizable Space in the British Imagination, 1750-1850 (2015), spoke on “Mediating Agency in the Nineteenth-Century Anthropocene.” To explore the question of which kinds of agency are afforded by different media/forms, Carroll gave a two-part talk. The first part focused on Victorian board games, such as Smith Evans’s The Crystal Palace Game (1854), in which players travel along trade routes and navigate sea currents and The British Tourist, produced by the Wallace family, which features sixty-five views of the British Empire. These games are produced somewhat like maps, i.e. printed, folded, portable. A fabulous discussion then of how Victorian games afford agency to the players in a “celebration of swift circulation” and early globalization—yet the player’s agency is the point here, i.e. the extent to which the player accepts or not certain narratives of global circulation and imperial power. The second part of the talk focused on Brontë’s Villette, whose main character, Lucy Snowe, possesses a form of “planetary consciousness,” read here via Nixon’s idea of slow violence.
Jesse Oak Taylor (Univ. of Washington, Seattle), author of a forthcoming book The Sky of Our Manufacture: Climate, Pollution, and the London Fog, spoke on this topic: “Evolution’s Aimless Feet: Tennyson and the Forms of Species Being in the Anthropocene.” A smart talk that defines the Anthropocene as a human agency that implies “a particular instantiation of the human” accompanied by certain “technological enhancements.” A useful reminder that the anthropos is a new kind of “species being” in which it is not that homo sapiens is like a geological force, but is a geological force-we must be weary of how much of a metaphor the concept is-or rather is not. The anthropos implies a “Cyborgian species.” Building on this, Taylor offered a reading of Tennyson’s poem 108 as an “elegy for the human,” wherein the human is being replaced by this something new, by the “anthropos” or the post-human:
Contemplate all this work of Time,
The giant labouring in his youth;
Nor dream of human love and truth,
As dying Nature's earth and lime;
But trust that those we call the dead
Are breathers of an ampler day
For ever nobler ends. They say,
The solid earth whereon we tread
In tracts of fluent heat began,
And grew to seeming-random forms,
The seeming prey of cyclic storms,
Till at the last arose the man;
Who throve and branch'd from clime to clime,
The herald of a higher race,
And of himself in higher place,
If so he type this work of time
Within himself, from more to more;
Or, crown'd with attributes of woe
Like glories, move his course, and show
That life is not as idle ore,
But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And batter'd with the shocks of doom
To shape and use. Arise and fly
The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.
Timothy Sweet (West Virginia Univ., Morgantown) spoke on: “"Moby-Dick and Nineteenth-Century Extinction Discourse,” arguing that Deep Time is the “whale’s domain,” opposing “Whale’s immortality” and “human finitude.” A useful reminder: “Whale’s have their own chronology.”
The final speaker, Gordon Mitchell Sayre (U. of Oregon), author of books including Les Sauvages Américains- Representations of Native Americans in French and English Colonial Literature (1997) and The Indian Chief as Tragic Hero: Native Resistance and the Literatures of America, from Moctezuma to Tecumseh (2005), spoke on “'Alive and Moving': Aesthetics, Agency, and Technology in Audubon's Birds of America.” Really interesting talk on how ideas about biodiversity-what we think of that diversity-depend upon the affordances of media, with a particular emphasis on the moment in which representations of diversity switches from painting/drawing to photography. Sayre discussed the particular contribution of Audubon. See his essay “My style of drawing birds.” Sayre thus asks why Errol Fuller’s Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record claims that somehow a photograph of an extinct animal captures “more” of the (affect related to) the lost animal than any drawing. Audubon wanted to show animals “alive and moving.” [Useful comparison here would be with Pierre Belon.] Hence the paradox: Audubon’s drawings, in which Audubon would draw a dead animal “alive” in full color, somehow show animals more alive than a photograph of a living (if extinct) animal in its own habitat, which raises key questions about what photography does (cf. Barthes’ La Chambre Claire): “en déportant le réel vers le passé (“ça a été”), [la photographie] suggère que [l’objet] est déjà mort”; “la photo me dit la mort au futur”; “toute photographie est cette catastrophe.” [I might wonder how this plays out similarly in the early modern, e.g. how Belon’s woodcuts differ from Palissy’s use of live (then dead!) animals as/in molds—both rely no doubt on dead animals, but the latter seems still closer to photography because of its material “capture” of the object.]
Overall a fantastic panel that showed how “uncanny” the relationship is between the 19C and the Anthropocene.
Footnote: Taylor made reference to the proclamation “We are as gods as might as well get good at it,” in the 1968 Whole Earth Catalog, which might as well be the epigraph for volume two of the “Humanist Anthropocene.”
I won’t summarize the whole of Mentz’s fabulous book. I will point us however to his pages on the Bookfish or “Vox piscis,” a “codfish with a book in its belly [that] allegorizes the beating heart of [Mentz’s] scholarly practice” and his dearest hope for the “blue humanities” (178). The volume in the cod’s belly is “a gooey and imaginative mixing of scholarly writing and oceanic reality” (180). Hence the fact, then, that Mentz’s blog is thus titled—to be checked out here.
Also to be checked out is the website for Mentz’s fabulous exhibition at the Folger, “Lost at Sea: The Ocean in the English Imagination, 1550-1750.”: “This exhibition explores the tools English mariners and writers used—from atlases, sextants, and star charts to prayer-books, symbols, and stories—to find themselves on changing oceans.” Mentz talks about the exhibit in a podcast.
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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