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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