As I set to work on the final chapters of the first volume of the Humanist Anthropocene, I come across this report in the Guardian about the oil fields in Guanabara Bay, off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, discovered in 2006. The report notes how “oil-fuelled development is transforming this iconic landscape into a petrochemical and service centre for the oil and gas fields more than 200km offshore in the Campos and Santos basins.” The report talks of Alexandre Anderson, a fisherman concerned with the environmental impact of the oil fields—his activism has put his life at danger. The impact is at quite a scale: “Guanabara, it seems, has become Petrobras Bay”: “there are at least two refineries, four terminals, four shipyards, as well as countless storage tanks, support ships, service factories and underwater pipelines.” The report contains several chapters, which I don’t summarize here. I’ll forego obvious commentary and note simply how Guanabara bay was, in the sixteenth century, the heart of the French presence in the Americas, i.e. “La France Antarctique,” the home to “Fort Coligny.” What was once a site for colonialism tout court is now the site of extraction and a different kind of colonial presence.
A two-day conference at Dartmouth College, organized by David P. Laguardia, provided a fantastic venue for discussion of the various meanings of space in early modern France. Tom Conley opened Day 1 (May 22) with a fabulous discussion of Le théâtre d’agriculture (1600) by the “father of French agronomy” Olivier de Serres, about whom Architectura offers this useful introduction. Tom paused notably on the book’s index, especially its entry on “Terre” (Earth), which begins “La Terre est le fondement de l’Agriculture” (The Ear is the fundament/foundation of Agriculture), revealing to what extent such a reflection on agricultural use of land counters and shapes discourses about early modern mining/extraction. (See Tom’s upcoming article in a volume from the Ecole des Chartes). Other fabulous talks on Day 1 included Andrea Frisch on the “spaces of forgetting” in the Wars of Religion, Jeremie Korta on Pierre Belon, ending with Katie Chenoweth on Montaigne-as-mountain. I began Day 2 (May 23) with a talk about “manufactured landscapes” in various early modern treaties on mining, which was followed by numerous splendid papers, ending with David Laguardia on the spatial writing of Pierre de l’Estoile. An intense and intensely rewarding two-day gathering in the fine state of New Hampshire.
Mic.com announces that "ahead of a series of major events later this year, The Foundation for Deep Ecology and the Population Media Center released a collection that illustrates the devastating effects of out-of-control growth and waste, and it's breathtaking." The collection includes many breathtakingly frightening extraction landscapes, such as this one (Mining Diamonds).
In happier "extraction landscape" news, "Dutch solar road makes enough energy to power household": according to aljazeera.com, a trial road surface that generates electricity in Amsterdam has turned out to be more effective than hoped for. See full story here.
In an article titled “Forbidden Data: Wyoming Just Criminalized Citizen Science,” Justin Pidot (Slate; and Asst. Prof. at Denver Sturm College of Law) has underscored the power of representations of landscape in terms of environmental power and policy: as of now, a citizen can face up to one year in prison for taking a photo that contains data about the state of the environment if said data is subsequently shared with the state or federal government, such as for example the National Weather Service’s photo competition. Pidot explains: “The state wants to conceal the fact that many of its streams are contaminated by E. coli bacteria, strains of which can cause serious health problems, even death.” The origins, argues Pidot, are political: the level of E. coli is due to cows grazing on public lands too close to streams and rivers—and Wyoming ranchers clearly don’t want such practices inquired into or legislated on. Idaho and Utah apparently have similarly laws. Wyoming’s new law is frighteningly broad: “It makes it a crime to “collect resource data” from any “open land,” meaning any land outside of a city or town, whether it’s federal, state, or privately owned. The statute defines the word collect as any method to “preserve information in any form,” including taking a “photograph” so long as the person gathering that information intends to submit it to a federal or state agency.” The announcement harkens back to at least two papers at the Approaching the Anthropocene conference at UCSB: Daniel Grinberg’s thoughts on PPGIS, Erin E. Wiegrand’s work on visualizing factory farming, the Public Lab balloon project, etc. How we represent, and who has the right (or not) to represent, landscapes are essential questions.
A group of “kayaktivists” in Seattle, reports the NYT, protest the Shell Oil’s proposes leasing of a terminal in the Port of Seattle for its Arctic drilling fleet. shellno.org phrases the problem as follows: “On January 8, we learned that Shell will be hosting their Arctic drilling rigs in Terminal 5 of the Port of Seattle. That same day the journal Nature published an article saying that Arctic oil MUST be left in the ground in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. Drilling for Arctic oil is an open attack on people in the global south, who are already losing communities to rising seas and extreme weather. It could also spell disaster for one of the most unique wilderness areas on the planet and all of its inhabitants.” Seattle’s Mayor, Ed Murray, seemingly agrees with the spirit of the protest: “We need to focus our port, our businesses, on the new economy, on things like clean energy of the future and not on the old economy that is dying out, such as oil.” The kayaks, by gathering on the waters, make visible an “extraction landscape” that might otherwise remain somewhat invisible since far away from the shores and the city.
This is an "extraction landscape" of a different kind to the ones I've been talking about in The Humanist Anthropocene, which mainly relate directly to mining the Earth in the early modern period and today. Flying over Arizona, close to Phoenix, I snapped this image of (huge) solar panels extracting energy from the sun in the middle of the dry desert. (Full size)
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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