Disaster's Gift: Anthropocene and Capitalocene temporalities in Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha’
Recent critical interventions on the Anthropocene have tended to highlight its implicit neo-imperialism (Crist) or its neglect of systematic critique (Malm and Hornborg; Moore). In particular, Jason Moore has criticized its dehistoricizing effect, proposing instead a systemic analysis of the Capitalocene to puncture the more grandiose forms of Anthropocene posturing (such as an equivalence between human and geological agencies). Yet Moore’s argument also elides the rich potential in more subtle understandings of the Anthropocene’s uncanny temporalities. In this paper I will approach the Anthropocene as a “provocation” (Yusoff) via an examination of the gothic ecologies of Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha.’ The novella, rich in untimely moments, depicts a journalist who investigates the appearance of an impossible creature (the pterodactyl) in a drought-afflicted tribal region of Bengal. Devi’s text not only provides what Sharae Deckard calls “a praxis for reading the capitalist world-ecology in gothic literature,” but also a means of recuperating the implicitly uncanny in Moore’s world-ecology (in which, he says, “human agency is not purely human at all”). I propose that the titular creature in ‘Pterodactyl...’ is the emergence of the wirkwelt, the visible materialisation of ecological death in a particular time and place which is simultaneously radically open to other times and places. Thus, as it bears witness to both the “politics of uneven time” (Sharma) and the “double death” of extinction narratives (Rose), ‘Pterodactyl...’ modulates the different, but equally vital orders of thinking and feeling offered by Capitalocene and Anthropocene debates.
David Farrier is Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Edinburgh. He has published books on nineteenth-century Pacific travel (Unsettled Narrative, Routledge 2007) and political asylum in contemporary literature and film (Postcolonial Asylum, Liverpool UP 2011). His most recent publications include articles on water stress in Palestinian literature, ethical time in the work of Alice Oswald, and reading the work of Edward Thomas from the perspective of the Anthropocene. He also convenes the Edinburgh Environmental Humanities Network.
Please note that unfortunately this recording missed the first 30 seconds or so of David's presentation
Deep Time as an Archive of Feeling (Queering the Anthropocene)
Speaking of ‘public feeling,’ Ann Cvetkovich recently wrote: “I think of our bodies as this site of weight-bearing. If you think of yourself as a sensory body who is feeling the atmosphere around you when you are connecting with people in a room, sometimes you carry their heavy energy as much as you are buoyed up by their joyous energy. We are a sensitive interface with the world. We are carrying historical residues, collective residues.”
Decades before, Audre Lorde wrote that “In order to withstand the weather we had to become stone.” Neither of these queer, anti-racist feminist thinkers was knowingly intervening in debates on the Anthropocene or deep time, but I wonder how their thoughts on surviving a queer, marginalized life might bear on recent attempts to decenter the Anthropos, while enlivening non-human natures, as part of an ethical project of (to quote Yusoff) “fracking the Anthropocene.” Put otherwise, how might Audre Lorde’s observation inaugurate not a metaphorical but a material relation to stone-life—one in which all bodies are ‘sensitive interfaces,’ bearing the weight of other lives, injustices and joys? To think this human-inhuman kinship, I want to rethink the idea of deep time as a planetary “archive of feeling” (Cvetkovich) in which we can acknowledge affective transcorporeal time-travels and the residues of lives not only human but variously inhuman. In this case we need not only to read this archive for signs of past worlds, but we also need to ask about its mode of curation, and measures of literacy. What has been left out or off of these pages? What kinds of counterarchival practices, or “queer archive activism” (Cvetkovich) need to be enacted in order to seek, and perhaps find, feminist, queer, anti-racist and anti-colonial justice in deep time?
Astrida Neimanis is a feminist writer and teacher interested in water, weather, feminist alter-Anthropocenes and other such naturalcultural matters. She teaches at the University of Toronto (Canada) and is a Researcher with the Environmental Humanities Collaboratory / Posthumanities Hub of Linkoping University (Sweden). Most recent publications include Thinking with Water (with C Chen and J MacLeod, MQUP, 2013), "Weathering: Climate Change and the Thick Time of Transcorporeality" (with R Walker, Hypatia 2014), "Alongside the Right to Water, a Feminist Posthumanist Imaginary” (Journal of Human Rights and Environment, 2014), "Natural Others? On Nature, Culture and Knowledge" (Sage Handbook of Feminist Theory, 2014) and "Speculative Reproduction" (philoSOPHIA 2014). Current collaborations involve thinking with ((pollen)) (with Perdita Phillips), extremophiles (with Kathy High, Oron Catts and others) and toxic life in the Gotland Deep (with Cecilia Asberg).
Placing the Anthropocene
Geological epochs are usually found in rock strata, but this new one is all around us and includes the present and the future, at least as constituted by a humanities vision. Svalbard's coal city, Pyramiden is a place shot through with Anthropocene imaginaries. At latitude 78 degrees north, Pyramiden, is born of Swedish mercantile imperialism in 1910, but now an industrial heritage site. It celebrates the industry of several nations, particularly Soviet Russia and its 1930s concept of modernity. Pyramiden is a time capsule where modernity, coal, mercantilism, globalism and strategic territoriality have all found a place just 1000 kilometres from the north pole, as a 'cultural landscape' under Norwegian environmental law.
Libby Robin FAHA is Professor of Environmental History at ANU, Senior Research Fellow at the National Museum of Australia and Guest Professor at the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Stockholm. Current projects include Collecting the future: museums, communities and climate change, The Culture of Weeds and Expertise for the Future. Libby is author of How a Continent Created a Nation (NSW Premier’s Australian History Prize 2007), Flight of the Emu (Victorian Premier's prize for science writing 2003), and co-editor of Boom and Bust: Bird Stories for a Dry Country (Whitley Medal 2009). One recent book is The Future of Nature:Documents of Global Change (Yale UP) (New England Book Prize for Anthologies 2013). She and Iain McCalman edit Routledge Environmental Humanities book series.
Dag Avango is a researcher in the Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm.
Please note that this is an audio recording of a play performed by Libby, Dag and other members of the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory
Interfaces of Felidae and Extinction: 'Victim' and 'Cause'
Introducing his classic study on feline ethology, Paul Leyhausen notes that, while humans devote much attention to studying higher primates on the notion that they are closest to humans, we will not understand the violent practices of humans without studying animals like felines (also very close to humans (95 vs 98% genetic similarity), but much less-studied). The focus of these considerations is the multi-valent role of felines in extinction, exploring several different interfaces of cats, humans, and other beings in larger dynamics of ecology and extinction. Roberto Marchesini, Gloria Anzaldua, and Deborah Bird Rose use the concept of interface to study cognitive, cultural, and ethical intertwinings and overflows between various species. Many large cats are under high extinction pressure due to the encroachment of habitat and eradication by humans. Lions, tigers, panthers (such as the Florida panther), and the Iberian Lynx, among others, face population pressure. In the complex entanglement between feline and human societies some hundreds of millions of 'domestic' and 'feral' cats are killed globally each year in a 'zoecide' that accompanies current human society, alongside the massive zoecide in meat production. On the other hand, so-called domestic felines are pointed to as exerting a strong environmental factor in killing marsupials, birds, or rodents. Recent news headlines about studies attributing billions of bird and small animal deaths to cats in the United States bear this out, as do accounts in Australia faulting cats for marsupial, songbird, and penguin killing.
Jeffrey Bussolini is Associate Professor at City University of New York and Co-Director of the Avenue B Multi-Studies Center (which houses the Center for Feline Studies and the Center for the Ethnographic and Historical Study of Los Alamos and National Security). Has conducted ethnographic study of Los Alamos and related institutions since 1991, and etho-ethnographic study of feline-feline and feline-human interactions since 1995.
Appeared as “Feline Sociologist” in the VICE Media/Tribeca Film Festival film Lil Bub and Friendz in 2013, and edited and translated for a special issue of Angelaki: A Journal of the Theoretical Humanities (19.3, Fall 2014) on philosophical ethology and the work of Dominique Lestel (to be followed by two others on Vinciane Despret and Roberto Marchesini). Jeffrey published “Recent French, Belgian and Italian work in the cognitive science of animals: Dominique Lestel, Vinciane Despret, Roberto Marchesini and Giorgio Celli” in Social Science Information, 52.2 May 2013; and “Toward Cat Phenomenology: A Search for Animal Being,” Found Object #8 May 2000. He also published “Los Alamos as Laboratory for Domestic Security Measures: Nuclear Age Battlefield Transformations and the Ongoing Permutations of Security” Geopolitics 16.2 2011, and “The Wen Ho Lee Affair: Between Race and National Security” in Implicating Empire, ed. Aronowitz and Gautney, Basic Books, 2002. He translated Dominique Lestel's The Friends of My Friends: On Animal Friendship, forthcoming with Columbia University Press.
The Unwelcome Crows: Hospitality in the Anthropocene
As their common name implies, House Crows (Corvus splendens) stick pretty closely to people. So much so that there are no known populations living independently of us. You might say that, in so far as these birds have a ‘natural environment’, we’re it. This paper focuses on a small population of roughly 30 house crows in the town of Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands, likely all descendants of two birds that arrived by ship in the mid 1990s. In 2014, after 20 years of peaceful co-existence, the government of the province of South Holland began the process of eradicating this population, worried that they may one day become a pest or threat to biodiversity. Just across the water from Hoek van Holland is the Port of Rotterdam – Europe’s largest port – and an ‘engine’ for the global patterns of production, trade and consumption that are today remaking our world, ushering in what many are calling the ‘Anthropocene.’ Focusing on these crows and this port – in a way that is attuned to the broader placetimes that constitute our present – this paper seeks a more situated way into the relatively abstract notion of the Anthropocene. Working through the lens of ‘hospitality’, it explores the ways in which other species are made welcome – or not – in the places that we call our own. Telling the story of this little group of birds in a way that holds this port and its impacts in the frame, this paper asks how we might be required to rethink our responses to, to learn to live with, others in this difficult time.
Thom van Dooren is an environmental philosopher and anthropologist in the Environmental Humanities program at the University of New South Wales, Australia. His current research focuses primarily on the ethics and politics of extinction and conservation. His latest book, Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction, was published by Columbia University Press in June 2014. He is co-editor of the international, open-access,
journal: Environmental Humanities. From September to December 2014 he will be a visitor in the Environmental Humanities Laboratory at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (on an intermittent basis). From November 2014 he will also be a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center, LMU Munich.
Is loss a precondition for activism? Critiquing mourning / melancholia distinctions in the context of ecological irreversibility
This paper begins by recalling Cormac McCarthy’s exploration of memory loss in The Road: a thought experiment for the Anthropocene if ever there was one, and for the possible value in keeping memory of things his burnt world no longer recognises - “of things that cannot be put back”. I argue that this dilemma – what to imagine into our futures, what to accept has become our past forever – is an under-explored tension within environmental practices of resistance to extinction (as strategically diverse as those of climate action, survivalism, or de-extinction technologies). Furthermore I look critically at the claim, made both by activists and philosophers, that ‘working through’ loss could constitute a basis for political engagement rather than despair. The often cited Freudian distinction between mourning (in which attachment to the lost object is overcome) and melancholia (in which attachment becomes pathologically 'fixed') has, I will argue, blurred some of the useful nuances of this debate. Are there not grounds for the activist to retain something of the spirit of melancholia, acknowledging the ‘forever’ of loss? To delve back into such muddy waters, I draw upon two opposing legacies in the western philosophical and theological canon – represented by G.W.F. Hegel’s and Walter Benjamin’s respective thinking on mourning, dialectic and eternity – as competing temporal frames for the Anthropocene. A desire to overcome loss on the one hand, and to redeem and ‘fix’ it through memory, on the other.
Stefan Skrimshire is a lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at The University of Leeds, UK. He teaches courses in the broad areas of Religion and Politics, and Ethical Theory. His research spans political theology, continental philosophy and environmental ethics. The theme that unites these is a long standing interest in the formation, in both Christian doctrine and western philosophy, of apocalyptic and eschatological thought; more specifically in the impact of apocalypse belief upon contemporary environmental and political movements. He is the author of Politics of Fear, Practices of Hope: De-politicisation in a Time of Terror (Continuum 2008) and editor of Future Ethics: Climate Change and Apocalyptic Imagination (Continuum 2010). He has published numerous chapters and articles on apocalyptic, messianic and eschatological themes in journals such as Political Theology; Cultural Politics; Environmental Philosophy; Journal for Cultural Research; Literature and Theology. Between 2007 – 2010 he led a research project on apocalyptic imagination and climate activism at The University of Manchester. He is currently in the planning stages of a new interdisciplinary research project at Leeds called ‘Religion and the Anthropocene: Rethinking Belief in Progress, Crisis and Deep Time’. See also http://skrimshire.org.uk/
Please note that unfortunately this recording missed the first 30 seconds or so of Stefan's presentation
Towards a reading of temporal ecology and differentiated natural temporalities (durations, rhythms, tempos) in the narrative timescapes of modernity
Towards a reading of temporal ecology and differentiated natural temporalities (durations, rhythms, tempos) in the narrative timescapes of modernity. The film The Day After Tomorrow (2004) was notable for being one of the early Hollywood made, high budget general release films that addressed issues of climate change. Setting aside both its interesting twists – American citizens crossing into Mexico for security reasons, cynical and disbelieving national politicians eating humble pie, and mawkish family based sentiments that beset so many American movies – what interests me is the treatment of time in relation to narrative and plot. To affect a classic Hollywood pattern of quest, conflict, suspense and resolution within the narrative, the writers and director simply speeded the process of climate change so that America (and in fact the whole Northern Hemisphere) was subject to a new ice age in the period of six weeks!! Standard Hollywood motifs of (car) chases were created in a new forms. Killer temperature gradients literally chasing a protagonist and his comrades through the streets of New York, who just make their refuge in time, the killer weather sounding menacingly at the door just as they slam it shut. And two military helicopters being over taken and frozen out the sky by a another high speed killer weather front. This, and similar examples, tells us a lot about the challenges of representing ecological time within the temporalities of human narratives. Stories are the tissue – or essence - of life itself as A S Byatt says. They underpin constructions of the self, individual and collective identities, and cultural, social and political atmospheres more broadly. The narratives which dominate enlightenment culture are set at human pace and to human durations -so narratives of lives and generations of lives, and the twists and turns in the common time frames of human life, be they in hours, days, week, season, years, stages of life. There is little tradition or skill within these modern narratives of extreme human exceptionalism and a split nature-culture, of weaving many forms of natural temporality into our stories. Indeed it could be argued that modern narratives rest in part on stripping non-human temporalities out of our stories. Be they the differing processes speeds of non-human brains; the very other life cycles of other beings (from weeks to centuries): the ‘long’ rhythms within the biosphere such as ice ages, and sun spot cycles, we don’t know how (with some emerging exceptions) to tell stories with these other temporalities woven into the plot. This is one reason why, as the one of the greatest (most tragic) events ever unfolds (the unravelling of the current diversity of the biosphere by a self-other destructive single species), as the band Talking Heads put it, “as things fell apart, nobody paid much attention”.
Owain Jones is Professor of Environmental Humanities, School of Humanities and Cultural Industries, Bath Spa University.
De-Extinction and Melancholia: Narcissistic Attachments
Thom van Dooren and Deborah Bird Rose argue that rhetoric which frames de-extinction projects as progressive tools to overcome extinction disregards the need to ‘dwell’ with extinction through a process of mourning allowing us ‘to learn from and “work through” experiences of loss’ in order to come to an altered understanding of the world and our own relationships within it. Responding to this, I argue that de-extinction projects are inherently melancholic. In his 1917 essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, Sigmund Freud argues that melancholic attachments can be seen as related to a loss of ego rather than of object, and as such the melancholic’s inability to work though and detach from the lost object is a direct result of the ‘narcissistic foundation’ of the initial object attachment. The tendency for de-extinction projects to be framed as moral endeavours seeking to undo the effects of human-caused extinction in a process of necessary atonement would suggest an attempt to repair a collective human ego is at work. However Freud’s suggestion that the immortality of the ego is most fully secured in the narcissistic relationship of parent to child is a useful way to think through the complexity at work in the relationships between scientists and the nonhuman animal children they hope to create, their narcissistic investment in whom is linked to the immortality of the human ego in ways that trouble species boundaries.
Emily Thew is an English Literature PhD student at the University of Sheffield and is funded by the Wolfson Foundation. Her research examines the ethical interactions between embodied beings in contemporary literature, particularly focusing on ill and animal bodies in relation to grief and mourning. She recently co-organised the symposium ‘Animal Machines: Animals and/as Technology’ held at Sheffield University.
Endlings, Endings and New Beginnings
In April 1996, two men working at a convalescent center wrote a letter to the journal Nature proposing that a new word be adopted to designate a person or individual of a species that is the last in the lineage: endling. This had come up because of patients who were dying and thought of themselves as the last of their lineage. The word appears to have never caught on. Then, in 2001, when the National Museum of Australia (NMA) opened its doors, it featured a gallery called Tangled Destinies and endling reappeared. On the wall above a case with two thylacine specimens was written: Endling (n.) The last surviving individual of a species of animal or plant.
In this paper, I will examine the tensions between narratives of the extinction of a species with the death of last individual and a general unwillingness to believe the species has been lost. Using the historical cases of the European beaver’s extinction in Sweden and the thylacine’s extinction in Australia, I will trace the stories about a species’ end yet potential survival. In both places, the remoteness of the countryside led to continued belief for up to several decades after the last known individual died that individuals could be found alive. Yet as time progressed, the reality of the loss set in and new narratives told/invented the stories of the endlings, the last, to mourn and commemorate the lost. These somber narratives were counterbalanced by hopes of return -- through reintroduction for the beaver and deextinction for the thylacine. Looking at the interplay of these historical narratives, we see both despair and hope as reactions to extinction.
Dolly Jørgensen is an environmental historian who has researched a broad array of topics, including medieval forestry management, late medieval urban sanitation, the modern practice of converting offshore oil structures into artificial reefs, and environmentalism in science fiction. She was a practicing environmental engineer before earning a PhD in history from the University of Virginia, USA, in 2008. She is currently employed at the Department of Ecology & Environmental Science, Umeå University, Sweden, where she is working on a comparative history of animal reintroduction in Norway and Sweden.
Anthropogenesis: Rescue Genetics in the Anthropocene
Following Crutzen’s suggestion to rename the current epoch the “Anthropocene” in 2002, the term quickly became salient beyond the academy. Journalists repeatedly ask some version of the question, “What is the Anthropocene and are we in it?” while artists envisage an “accelerationist” aesthetics of time and space (Bratton, 2013) and entrepreneurs work on a clock that will tick for 10,000 years (Long Now Foundation). We are simultaneously contending with the accumulating evidence of our global impact and thinking ahead to the next epoch. What is this new now? Could the Anthropocene be a sort of anthropogenesis? For recently extinct species, reconceptualizing the present epoch as the Anthropocene is good news: the current mass extinction has at last become aligned with climate change, habitat destruction, and other Earthwide anthropogenic effects, with the potential to advance conservation both philosophically and practically. As evidence, some ecologists and conservation biologists are tackling projects with intriguingly chronological connotations: backbreeding species to resemble their wildtype ancestors, rewilding habitats to restore former ecosystems, and developing synthetic biology to de-extinguish species. Recuperating the past to create a different future than current circumstances presage, these projects intercede in evolutionary processes in unprecedented ways. All three projects reimagine not only time and place, but also species. How do genetic rescue projects reconceptualize these human constructs? This presentation, part of a larger project examining cultural responses to the current mass extinction, analyzes philosophical concerns about nostalgia, nationalism, and species integrity evoked by genetic rescue strategies.
Stephanie S. Turner's scholarship works at the intersections of Science Studies and Animal Studies to consider the critical historical and cultural factors influencing the ways scientists and artists describe, archive, and represent living things and, in turn, to examine the ways these representations influence the wider culture’s perception of the living world. Her most recent article, “Relocating ‘Stuffed’ Animals: Photographic Remediation of Natural History Taxidermy,” published in Humanimalia: A Journal of Human/Animal Interface Studies, explores the phenomenon of photographers making images in natural history museums. At present she is working on a larger manuscript examining scientists' and artists' representation of the current mass extinction of species. She teaches in the Rhetorics of Science, Technology, and Culture program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the US.