Chapter 2 of Mentz’s book is quite different from what I had expected it to be! And it’s all the better for that! For a while now, I’ve been thinking through Poseidon’s (and Juno’s) agency in epic as something akin to the environmental and geologic forces that “we” have become in the Anthropocene. This past semester, in the “Gods and Giants” course taught at Harvard, there were frequent occasions for close readings of passages in which one or the other of the gods caused the winds and the seas to rise up—usually for some petty and vengeful reason. The topic will be at the heart of various writing to come. Mentz’s chapter is similar, but different, for the focus is here not on classical deities, but on early modern Christianity. He thus studies a number of “theo-ecological encounter[s]” (25) to approach just such questions, i.e. how the sea is (and is not) under divine control, as specifically captured in the image showing a “Providentialist view of shipwreck” (49) in A Token for Mariners. The various texts studied here are approached as instances of “tehomic theology” (tehom, the sea) a term that Mentz borrows from Catherine Keller (28). This turn to the ocean and its relationship to angry gods is a welcome one and constitutes a challenge to the anthropocentric focus of much that has been and is written about early modern voyages—Mentz gives as an example of this the title page of Dickinson’s God’s Protecting Providence, which alludes to both “the devouring Waves of the Sea” and “the inhumane CANNIBALS OF FLORIDA” (41). Indeed, in early modern travel accounts the trend has been to see and to be interested in only the humans, and in human cultural exchanges, rather than to pay attention to the non-human environment. In Errance et cohérence, I looked briefly at Léry’s Histoire d’un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil, drawing attention to a similar imbalance, namely the fact that Léry is, almost universally, read as Lévi-Strauss’s ancestor rather than as a someone aware of the material world: “Alors que, dans la partie centrale, brésilienne et ethnographique, l’exposition de la nature et du peuple de la Terra Brasilis privilégie […] le fait particulier et l’absolue altérité de la langue tupie, chacune des deux narrations de traversées atlantiques est l’occasion d’une réflexion sur l’immensité du monde et sur la possibilité (ou peut-être l’impossibilité) de comprendre le lieu où l’on est par rapport à un plan plus général” (Whereas, in the central part [of his text], which is focused on Brazil and ethnographic in nature, the representation of nature and of Brazil’s inhabitants privileges […] the particular and the absolute otherness of the Tupi language, the two narratives of Atlantic crossing become the occasion for a reflection on the immensity of the world and on the possibility (or perhaps impossibility) of understanding the place one is in relationship to the whole). I’m not sure I realized what such a sentence meant when I wrote it over five years ago. In any case: Mentz’s chapter is a good one and a useful one, teaching us finally that the sea is theo-ecological and that, in texts that represent it, we must seek out and understand tehomic theology.
Further coverage today in the New York Times about the leaking natural gas well in California, which has been sending something like 130,000 pounds of the stuff out into the atmosphere per day since October. About 30,000 residents have been directly effected--many have now moved to temporary residences elsewhere. The well leads down to what used to be an oil field- once dried up, the empty space in the planet was used as a storage facility for natural gas piped in from elsewhere. A doubly ex-terranean disaster...
Countdown to the Modern Language Association (MLA) conference in Austin, TX, which promises this year to be particularly Anthropocenic.
I’ll be drawing on one chapter of “On the Exterranean,” from Vol 1 of the Humanist Anthropocene, in my paper on this panel:
616. Empire and Mining
Saturday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 306, JW Marriott
Presiding: Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, Univ. of North Dakota
1. "The Prospector Event: William McCardell and the Banff Springs," Jennifer Blair, Univ. of Ottawa
2. "Mine Craft: Mining, Minerals, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century South African and Australian Literature," Rebecca Weaver-Hightower
3. "Potosi, Seen from Bordeaux: Montaigne on Mining," Phillip Usher, New York Univ.
4. "Baldomero Lillo’s Coal Stories, Naturalism, and the 'Underside of Modernity,'" Pedro Garcia-Caro, Univ. of Oregon
And there are plenty of other Anthropocenic panels, which promise to be exciting. Here are the details:
670. The Anthropocene and Deep Time in Literary Studies
Saturday, 9 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 6B, ACC
Program arranged by the forum LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American
Presiding: Heather Houser, Univ. of Texas, Austin
Speakers: Gerry Canavan, Marquette Univ.; Bradley J. Fest, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Kristin George Bagdanov, Univ. of California, Davis; Rebecca Wilbanks, Stanford Univ.
The notion of the anthropocene was coined in 2000 to highlight that human beings' transformation of the planetary environment will be visible in the geological strata. Beyond its crucial influence in the environmental humanities, the anthropocene links to discussions of deep time in literary studies. This session taps into and elaborates on these two ongoing discussions.
794. Earth: Anthropocene Fantasies
Sunday, 10 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 8C, ACC
Program arranged by the forum LLC Victorian and Early-20th-Century English
Presiding: Cassandra Laity, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville
1. "Modernism's Vibrant Matter? Environmental Determinism as Nostalgia in Halford Mackinder, Blast, and E. M. Forster," Rebecca A. Walsh, North Carolina State Univ.
2. "Feminist Geophilia: Modernist Love Poetry’s 'Rock Roses' and Darwin’s Beagle Geology," Cassandra Laity
3. "Nineteenth-Century Geoengineering in John Ruskin and Jules Verne," Zach Horton, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
217. Literary Disaster Studies in Twentieth-Century American Literature
Friday, 8 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 9B, ACC
Presiding: Gavin Jones, Stanford Univ.
1. "Rising from the Ashes? Richard Wright's Contra-narrative of Disaster Relief in the 1927 Flood," Alexandra Rahr, Univ. of Toronto
2. "'Leading a Parade of Hurts': The Grapes of Wrath and the Depression’s Disasters," Joshua Mann, Stanford Univ.
3. "Disasters of the Future: Documentation and Speculation in the Anthropocene," Rebecca Evans, Duke Univ.
Responding: Gavin Jones
321. Air: Atmospheres of Mind and Matter
Friday, 8 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 4A, ACC
Program arranged by the forum LLC Victorian and Early-20th-Century English
Presiding: David S. Kurnick, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
1. "Modernism's Physics of Consciousness," Maureen Chun, independent scholar
2. "Out of the Earth, into the Sky: On D. H. Lawrence, Coal Mining, and Externality in the Anthropocene," Rebekah A. Taylor, Kent State Univ., Kent
3. "Air Mass," Aleksandr Prigozhin, Univ. of Chicago
735. Romantic Sovereignty
Sunday, 10 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 5B, ACC
Program arranged by the forum LLC English Romantic and the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism
Presiding: Mark E. Canuel, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago
1. "Kleist, Haiti, and the Vicissitudes of Sovereignty," Kir A. Kuiken, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York
2. "Play Time: Austen, Byron, and the Place of the Nonsovereign," Orrin N. C. Wang, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
3. "Anthropomorphism, Anthropocene," Sara Guyer, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
752. Anthropocenic Agency in the Nineteenth Century
Sunday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 8C, ACC
A special session
Presiding: Gordon Mitchell Sayre, Univ. of Oregon
1. "Mediating Agency in the Nineteenth-Century Anthropocene," Siobhan Carroll, Univ. of Delaware, Newark
2. "Evolution’s Aimless Feet: Tennyson and the Forms of Species Being in the Anthropocene," Jesse Oak Taylor, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
3. "Moby-Dick and Nineteenth-Century Extinction Discourse," Timothy Sweet, West Virginia Univ., Morgantown
4. "'Alive and Moving': Aesthetics, Agency, and Technology in Audubon's Birds of America," Gordon Mitchell Sayre
809. Poetry, Gender, Ecocriticism
Sunday, 10 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 306, JW Marriott
A special session
Presiding: T. Mera Moore Lafferty, Univ. of California, Berkeley
1. "Queer Ecology: The Posthuman Aesthetic in the Poetry of Olvido García Valdés," Enrique Álvarez, Florida State Univ.
2. "'Collected Stones in the Museum of Spectacles': Sublime Cityscapes in Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries," Collin Campbell, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland
3. "Jorie Graham’s Sea Change: An Anti-catalog for the Anthropocene," Sarah Dimick, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
4. "Elizabeth Bishop’s 'The Riverman': A Shaman, a Healing Plant, and a Call to Amazonian Environmental Awareness," Elizabeth Neely, Texas Wesleyan Univ.
753. After Transnational American Studies
Sunday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 9B, ACC
Presiding: Abby Goode, Rice Univ.
Speakers: Barbara J. Eckstein, Univ. of Iowa; Abby Goode; Manuel Herrero-Puertas, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison; Jared Hickman, Johns Hopkins Univ., MD; AnaMaria Seglie, Rice Univ.; Erin Sweeney, Univ. of California, Irvine
Responding: Susan Gillman, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz
For abstracts, visit https://aftertransnationalas.commons.mla.org/ after 1 Dec.
Session Description: Is there an “after” to the transnational turn in American studies? We assess the potential of various concepts (e.g., planet, climate, and globe) to advance the aims and transcend the limitations of the transnational turn. Participants offer speculative, “post-transnational” case studies and ask, Can we think beyond the transnational? Is the transnational the new normal of American studies?
828. Other Than Human
Sunday, 10 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 10A, ACC
Program arranged by the forum CLCS Global Anglophone
Presiding: Jennifer Wenzel, Columbia Univ.
1. "'And the Earth Opened Its Mouth and Swallowed Them . . .': The Posthumanist Sublime in Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock," Jana Maria Giles, Univ. of Louisiana, Monroe
2. "Climate Change, The Hungry Tide, and Other Than Human Time," Brandon Jones, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana
3. "Claude McKay's Rhythms and the New Human," Racheal Forlow, Univ. of Pittsburgh
4. "More Than Human: Extravagant Humanity in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road," Rose Casey, Cornell Univ.
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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