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.
Various news outlets have been announcing the discovery of a new candidate for Earth 2.0, i.e. Kepler 452b. The Huffington Post announces: “NASA's Kepler mission team revealed during a teleconference […] that an alien planet similar to Earth, named Kepler-452b, has been discovered in the "habitable zone" of a sun-like star.” Other information here. I particularly like Jeff Schweitzer’s title for his blog post: “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God!” Various websites are thus posting artist impressions of the new planet, from close-up and from afar, for example the New York Times. Strangely contemporaneous with this is the fact that NASA also just released a new image of Earth 1.0, apparently the first image for decades (since the Blue Marble) that isn’t the result of stitching various photos together: “A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away.”
Day 2 of Approaching the Anthropocene in Santa Barbara was as rich as Day 1, taking a slightly more "eco-depressive" turn, a turn to the darker and the less resolved, to the less activist. In one of the discussion sessions, Susan Derwin recalled Melanie Klein's idea of "the depressive position," which opens out onto potentially productive possibilities ("If the confluence of loved and hated figures can be borne, anxiety begins to centre on the welfare and survival of the other as a whole object, eventually giving rise to remorseful guilt and poignant sadness, linked to the deepening of love" - from Melanie Klein Trust website). Lili Yan (English, Soochow University and Shanghai Normal University Tianhua College) spoke about Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood (2010). Yi Chuang E. Lin (Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan) revisited The Waste Land via the Anthropocene.
Next up: art. Kayla Anderson (New Center for Research & Practice) responded to the idea that Anthropocenic art should propose "solutions," asking instead that it be understood as a response to Zylinska's idea that the Anthropocene presents a "crisis in critical thought." Anderson's presentation discussed various key art projects that fall on one side or the other of this solution-driven/critical-thought divide: Yes Naturally – How art saves the world at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag; the agitprop posters and podcasts of Dear Climate; the various projects of Dunne and Raby; etc. Brad Monsma (English CSU-Channel Islands) spoke of the blurring of the art/culture/nature divide at the truly amazing Echigo-Tsumari Triennale around the concept of satoyama ("a Japanese term applied to the border zone or area between mountain foothills and arable flat land" - Wikipedia; and see this book). On the same panel, Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint (U of Rochester/ EcoArtTech) spoke of several of their recent/current art projects that bring us into the "Late Anthropocene"--truly fabulous. In the afternoon, artist, programmer, professor Lisa Jevbratt (UCSB Art) discussed teaching a class on interacting with non-human animals, as well as her app Zoomorph that allows anyone to see the colors of the world "translated" into what different animals would see.
Zoomorph "still lifes" (HUMAN, CAT, hamster, deer)
One of the day's other highlights was Erin E. Wiegand's discussion (San Francisco State, Cinema Studies) of the different ways (heights, technologies, methods) for filming factory farming in her "Visualizing the Factory Farm," with discussion of close-up undercover reporting, drone footage, and satellite imagery. The paper nicely tied up with issues raised through Day 1 about viewing, perspective, citizen-driven environmental cartography, etc.
As these two posts hopefully demonstrate, the Approaching the Anthropocene conference brought together a wild array of smart and fascinating people, working with humility to understand where we are and where we're going.
A fantastic first day at the Approaching the Anthropocene conference organized by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC) (director Susan Derwin) at UCSB. I somehow won the honor and burden of opening the conference, with a paper titled "A Humanist Anthropocene? The Case of Extraction Landscapes" that walked through (a) the term's history and untranslatability; and (b) extraction landscapes in early modern Europe and now (Burtynsky, but also the Guardian's Keep it in the ground campaign, on the [very differently motivated] Carbon Tracker, etc.). The day featured many highlights, of which I mention here just a few. Volker M. Welter (UCSB Art and Architecture) plotted out the fascinating architectural history of the notion of a "humanly designed environment" (starting in the 19C), with mention of E. A. Gutkind's seminal Our world from the air and Husserl's idea of geography as "synthetic unity."
Janet Walker (UCSB Film and Media Studies) and others spoke about "Climate Justice at the Crossroads of Extractivism and Resistance," which lead to multiple exciting conceptual and project discoveries--especially the Public Lab and its Balloon and Kite Mapping project, which allows anyone to participate in mapping environmental damage (see also this useful tool called Mapknitter). By now, the theme of seeing, of how to see, of which height to see from, of how controls our mapping had become a key (and I think unplanned) theme of the conference. Sarah Jane Pinkerton (UCSB Feminist Studies) introduced us to the Invisible5 audio project that--again on the theme of mapping the environment, of making its landscapes visible--allows drivers along Interstate-5 to discover those "extraction" landscapes through which they drive. Christopher Walker (UCSB English) spoke of asteroid mining (and showed this non-spoof spoof-like DSI promotional video -- which includes some fabulous interstellar "extraction landscapes" of whole asteroids being "towed" for "harvest" by DSI spacecraft). John Foran (UCSB Sociology) spoke of the important Climate Justice Project.
The afternoon continued with more compelling presentations. Lynn Badia (Alberta, English and Film Studies) spoke of how Karel Čapek's The Absolute at Large (Továrna na absolutno) (1922) fantasized about "free energy." Tristan Partridge (UCSB Center for Nanotechnology and Society) raised questions inter alia about responsibility, drawing attention to Leonora Carrington's painting Sanctuary For Furies that includes the inscription "Anthropos at work." Daniel Grinberg (UCSB Film and Media Studies) discussed the use of GIS and PPGIS for mapping the environmental and cultural effects of agent orange--public/popular/crowdsourced cartography reveals its political efficacy here too. (Grinberg also discussed the War Legacy Project). Julie Koppel Maldonado (American University, Anthropology) spoke of Rebecca Marshall Ferris's documentary Can't Stop the Water, again raising questions about the battle to keep land above water level, to keep it in the hands of those who have lived on it for generations, and to keep the battle visible in media--more extraction landscapes.
The day ended with a firework keynote by Tim Morton on "humankind"--a humankind that is "withdrawn" and never wholly graspable, with human life as "arrivant" (Derrida)--that reacted inter alia to various critiques of the term "Anthropocene": including the facts that (1) it is not specist; and (2) it is not about human hubris ("You can't be hubristic about your heartbeat"--indeed, "we" trashed the earth unconciously). Conclusion: "The Anthropocene is the first fully non-anthropocentric concept."
Throughout the day a few key thinkers and works came up many times, most notably perhaps
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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