Wow- unless I’m missing the irony, or the book is significantly different from the excerpt published here, there is a new preposterous and reactionary book, “Eat this book” by Dominique Lestel, from Columbia University Press. From the preview, the logic is as skewed as a sword forced through a drunk Hephaestus’s forge, and the complete disregard for contemporary theory is astounding. Take this quote featured on CUP’s website: “Vegetarians systematically overlook the fact that eating meat has a fundamental significance and that it teaches us a lesson about humility in that it reminds us of the interdependence of all living beings.” Of all the lessons in humility, this is the weirdest! Hasn’t Tim Morton taught us to blur the boundaries between inside and outside, to realize we live in a mesh, and thus that to suggest that for a human to eat an animal reminds us of our interconnectedness is any different from a human eating, say, a handful of dirt, an old sock, or his neighbor, is ridiculous, for it simply reifies the human, re-asserts “Nature” rather than ecology. Indeed: I hope the author “eats his book” and feels a sense of interconnectedness. Then, there might be something to discuss.
Time to learn a bit more about salt.
“The salt on your sidewalk, or on your eggs, could be millions of years old.”
We eat the Exterranean..... (A suivre....)
Spent a pretty fabulous morning (alas curtailed) at a cartography seminar at Harvard University’s’ Radcliffe Institute, organized by the amazing team of Tom Conley and Katharina Piechocki.
Theodore Cachey (Notre Dame) shared excellent work about the cartographic impulse in Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. Camille Serchuck (Southern Connecticut State University) talked about the “painterly” in/of early modern maps, esp. Guillaume Le Testu’s Cosmographie, of which Frank Lestringant recently prepared an excellent edition.
My own, rather different, contribution took this form: “Early Modern Cartography in the Humanist Anthropocene-- Some Thoughts Towards some Questions,” in which I asked, in a nutshell: given that so much work on cartography, since maps stopped being considered purely “scientific” or “objective,” relies on the idea that cartography “reflects” history (Dainville), then what happens if we take Chakrabarty’s “Four Theses” seriously for the history of cartography and relate the history of cartography not only to human history but also to Deep Time? We’re so used—now—to reading humanist cartography for the way it plots, for example, empire, or discovery, or religious fantasy, but what of geological time in all this? What of the planet-as-planet? Key to such thoughts are, inter alia, Ulisse Aldrovandi who coined the term geology in 1603 (see also here).
I’m sorry to be missing the other amazing speakers who have all shaped how we understand maps: Neil Safier (of the John Carter Brown Library), Anders Engberg-Pedersen (of Empire of Chance), Marc Shell (of Islandology), Bill Rankin (see his radicalcartography), Carla Nappi, Matthew Edney, Franco Farinelli, Jean-Marc Besse (whose Grandeurs de la terre is essential for its plotting of how the oikoumene comes to be equivalent to the whole planet), and others.
EXTERRANEAN MINDFULNESS ON THE BOULEVARD SAINT-MICHEL, or "YEs, Indeed, NO TEXT MESSAGES WITHOUT TANTALITE"
Thanks to the Ecole des Mines and the associated Musée de Minéralogie, the Boulevard Saint-Michel is a place of exterranean mindfulness: “Without tantalite, no text messages,” reads one of the signs, referring to the fact that, as the same poster explains in small print, tantalum “turns out to be necessary for the manufacturing of the miniaturized capacitors used in portable phones and laptops.” The s’avère nécessaire (turns out to be) situates the realization in the time of the person stopping to read the sign: “Why yes indeed, it turns out I wouldn't be able to send text messages without this chemical element.” The other posters make similar points for other elements.
This first exterranean awareness goes hand-in-hand with another slightly different one: just a few steps further along the boulevard, mined matter, turned into the very building of the Ecole des Mines, in its geological depths, carries the traces of human history in the form of bullet holes from World War II (see photo). Standing here, the flâneur becomes aware both that the phone in his pocket can't take photos and upload them without small bits of tantalite; and that other mined matter, in the form of the building, serves both in the wall and in the memorial plaques attached to it, serves to wind together geological history and memory in an uncannily similar way.
Currently at a fabulous conference in Paris, organized by Frank Lestringant and Alexandre Tarrête, about islands in early-modern literature, I’m thinking this evening about the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, which are sinking. There are already many climate-change refugees from these islands, many of whom are now in—or trying to get to—Arkansas. As a CNN report puts it: “Climate change is real, and people see it happening now.” If the seas continue to rise due to climate change, then the Islands will all disappear completely. And it’s happening now: “Neighbors told me they woke up floating.” As another report (see video below) notes: the Marshall Islands remind us that life is “precarious.” The conference today didn’t intend to address such questions directly, but many of the papers underlined how, in the early modern period, islands were just a fragile—the threat was generally from other peoples and nations, but in a sense that is perhaps also the case, albeit “via” climate, of climate change. (Image from Porcacchi, source here)
My own talk, on the way that Ronsard depicts the island of Crete in the Franciade, could have been written differently for a different context. I could have argued that Ronsard, who is clearly very close to the isolario tradition, creates a Crete similar to the Marshall Islands.
Q: How does Francus end up there?
A: There is a storm.
Q: And the storm is weather or climate?
A: Clearly climate, for the storm here is epic and part of long-term divine trends.
Q: A hyperobject, as Timothy Morton would put it?
A: Its manifestation, yes.
Q: What happens when Francus gets to Crete?
A: He is welcomed by a Cretan prince, but must battle a Cretan giant.
Q: And that giant is climate change?
A: Perhaps, sort of: he’s the Other, he “guards” the island with no respect for the island, for he entraps the inhabitants and threatens them.
Q: Is he, then, the climate? The rising sea?
A: One could, perhaps, say that, yes.
Q: What about the Venetians, for Crete was Venetian at this point in history?
A: Precisely. In this narrative, they create the conditions for bad climate.
Q: They are the gas-guzzlers?
A: One could say that.
Q: So really, Ronsard already imagined the fate of the Marshall Islands?
A: Of course.
The Guardian announces today that "BP [is] to end Tate sponsorship after 26 years": "Oil firm blames ‘challenging business environment’ and says decision was not influenced by climate activists’ protests." Below: Guardian video from June 15, 2015, about the protests in the Turbine Hall.
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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