Happy to have spoken this past week in the "French Seminar Series" at UPenn, invited by two fabulous folks, Nathalie Lacarrière and Hanna Laruelle. It's good to keep talking about the project and to keep getting feedback as I wait for the final readers' reports.
The picture on the poster is incidentally one that I took while visiting Lecorbusier's (now almost dilapidated) Villa Savoye in Poissy, France. There's something about the this view, taken from the roof terrace, whose walls are starting to lose their paint, that seemed in my mind to speak to the idea of taking things "ex terra," of living with things taken "ex terra," all the time while looking on at Terra and terra.
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.
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."
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....)
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.
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...
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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