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.
Very happy to see this project for a new co-edited volume off the ground. Pauline Goul and myself, inspired by the fabulous work of Louisa Mackenzie, are putting this new volume together. We already have a pretty fabulous list of participants, but want to make sure that we don't miss anything. If you're up for it, please send us a proposal.
Reposting the CFP put on Fabula.org:
What Can the French Renaissance Do For Ecocriticism?
Editors Pauline Goul and Phillip John Usher
The present volume seeks to offer a set of answers to the question raised by its title, “What Can the French Renaissance Do For Ecocriticism?”
All too often, theory in general--and ecocriticism in particular--are said to serve as “lenses” through which we can understand (early modern) literature. All too often, contemporary thought models are “applied” to (early modern) literature, as if true lay only in the contemporary. This volume’s purpose is to envision a back-and-forth, to allow (early modern French) literature to interrogate, to nuance, to provoke, contemporary ecological theory. Our volume’s title owes it concise formulation to Louisa Mackenzie, who first identified that question as pertinent at the Vancouver MLA conference in January 2015. Mackenzie, a scholar at the cutting edge of French Renaissance Studies in the United States, suggested that we should not be asking what ecocriticism can “do” for our readings of the early modern period, but precisely the opposite. Indeed, turning back to 16th century France means shifting to an intellectual context in which key concepts—nature/culture, geology, Deep Time, etc.—were thought in ways uncannily similar to contemporary thought, precisely because certain disciplinary “splits” and intellectual conceptualization had not yet happened, precisely because certain disciplines (e.g. geology) were nascent, but not born. This volume seeks to take seriously Mackenzie’s question and to offer a set of responses. Each chapter of the volume will take up a specific concept or idea of contemporary ecocriticism, in order to question it and refine it.
Possible concepts/ideas to address include:
-Chakrabarty’s idea of putting Deep Time in dialogue with the human time of history
-Morton’s Dark Ecology
-the nonhuman and objects, Morton’s hyperobjects, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter
-inter-relatedness and the mesh
-logocentrism / anthropocentrism
-the Anthropocene in 1600
Another reason this volume is so urgent is that it will offer a much needed response to the anglocentrism of much ecocriticism, denounced by Tim Morton in his guest column in PMLA on a “Queer Ecology”, and yet made especially clear of late (in 2016) when the MLA’s new forum on "Ecocriticism and the Environmental Humanities,” whose executive committee is made up of Sharon O’Dair, Stacy Alaimo, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, and Stephanie LeMenager, all professors of English, defined ecocriticism as "a scholarly practice within English Studies." Jeff Persel’s fabulous edited volume The Environment in French and Francophone Literature (FLS, vol 39, 2012), makes it evidently clear that ecocrticism is not, of course, limited in such a way to English departments! A related problem is that, even when considered as anglo-centric, ecocriticism as a discipline seems to be formulated mostly by voices that either look at post-1800 sources or at medieval ones. There is thus a gaping lack of any early modern point of view, which, especially with the possible starting date of the Anthropocene in 1600, leaves much to be done. This volume will thus assert and demonstrate the need for ecocriticism and ecological thought to take up and respond to non-English materials from the early modern period. In the words of Louisa Mackenzie in her article in the French Literature Series’s ‘Environment’ issue (2012), “It’s a good time to think about an early modern, a French, a queer ecology.”
The book will be in English, and the submission of chapters is set for May 30, 2017.
Please submit a title, 300-word abstract, and a short CV to Pauline Goul (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Phillip John Usher (email@example.com) by June 20, 2016.
Ken Hiltner (UCSB) gave “Epic Geographies”’ second keynote address, memorable for many reasons, of which I note only four:
The fourth and final memorable moment of Hiltner’s talk was of the meta- variety. Hiltner began and closed with the point that this would likely be his very last talk at a conference! Not because he’s retiring, but because he sees us as having reached a point: the emissions caused by conference travel are huge and unjustified. Hiltner and colleagues at UCSB are indeed organizing an upcoming “nearly carbon-neutral” conference at UCSB, “Climate Change: Views from the Humanities,” in which people participate online (Details here / CFP here).
Susanne Wofford (NYU) offered a crucial reading focused on epic similes and in particular on Spenser’s Faerie Queene, in which she made an intervention key for thinking the Anthropocene: what if we read epic similes as a way to access the phenomenology of geography? In other words: what if we look to epic similes not for their descriptions of, or references to, real (or not-real) places, but for how they “immerse us in” the experience of “being in” some place? This is key- One recurring thing we see in discussions of the Anthropocene is a flickering between saying that it defines humans “as” a geological force, or “as being like” a geological force, precisely sitting us at the frontier of literal/scientific and figurative language. (At NYU MARC's "Epic Geographies" conference.)
I’m currently working on the conclusion to the first volume of the “Humanist Anthropocene” trilogy, getting inspiration from several places.
Chinese artist Liu Bolin’s “Hiding in the City No. 95 – Coal Pile” (viewable here) is particularly close to my thoughts: the piece shows Bolin covered in (what I assume to be) coal dust stood in front of, and somewhat indistinguishable from, the pile of coal behind him. Although part of the huge and ongoing series that Bolin the title “The Invisible Man,” this particular image seems to stand also as a representation of our complete reliance on fossil fuels, on the way that things dug up from the Earth infiltrate all aspects of our life each day.
In a similar vein, I’ve been looking at the art of Svetlana Ostapovici, in particular this image of Rodin’s thinker in a trash heap (viewable here). I like the fact that we see something strange here, i.e. a juxtaposition of the sculpture and “trash”—but we might also force ourselves to read it differently, i.e. as bringing out the materiality of the sculpture, itself made of matter dug from the ground.
The question pertains to our increasing use of rare earth metals in various electronic items, which becomes a problem especially--as this article in the Guardian notes—in the context of the trend to replace perfectly working IT solutions with new ones, e.g. Apple withdraws support for discontinued products 7 years after they are discontinued.
We’ll see where the conclusion takes us
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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