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Returning to Sedona

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Three things have drawn me repeatedly to the red rock landscape around the small north-central Arizona city of Sedona.

First, and most obvious, is the landscape itself, which counts among the most distinctive and stunningly beautiful in the world. Second is the set of processes that landscape has set in motion in the conditions of late capitalist modernity — specifically, these include the recreational and spiritual impulse among those who visit it, with earth- or land-based spirituality being a crucial part of that; the voracious appetite of the tourism and real estate industries, which have dominated politics in the city for decades; and the various conflicts these have set the town up for. It is this concatenation of forces that were the primary focus of my book Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona (and see update here).

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So, Donald Trump will be president of the United States and both Congress and Senate will be dominated by Republicans. Environmentalists and social justice activists, almost universally, find this idea horrifying. But there are silver linings to be found amidst the wreckage. Let’s explore a few of them.

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A friend shared a post about a seemingly unbelievable “opportunity” for the world’s ultra-rich — to “circle the globe on an inspiring and informative journey by private jet, created by The New York Times in collaboration with luxury travel pioneers Abercrombie & Kent.” On this 26-day itinerary, you’d be taken “beneath the surface of some of the world’s most compelling destinations,” which would be “illuminated” for you through “the expertise of veteran Times journalists,” including Nicholas Kristof and three others.

The cost of this “exclusive private charter for 50 guests”? $135,000 per person for double occupancy, $148,500 for singles. (I’m not sure what “double occupancy” means on an airplane, with “first-class, fully lie-flat seats.”)

Intrigued by the idea of flying “beneath the surface” (?) of such compelling places as Marrakesh and El Rashidia in Morocco, Isfahan in Iran, Yanggon in Myanmar, Bogota, Havana, Easter Island, and Apia, Samoa, I decided to take the plunge.  Continue Reading »

I’ve written about ethical witnessing before — both in the eco-trauma chapter of Ecologies of the Moving Image and in my reflections on Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing. Seeing Serhii Loznitsa‘s latest film, Austerlitz, at Kyiv’s Molodist Film Festival a few days ago, prompted me to think some more about how a seemingly neutral camera, viewing the world but not commenting on it, can enable such a witnessing. (The film’s title is an oblique reference to the W. G. Sebald novel of the same name; there is no mention of the book in the film.)

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Kyїv, Ukraine

Since my review of urban geographer Roman Cybriwsky’s excellent book on Kyїv, Ukraine, has not been published yet by the journal I wrote it for, though a second edition has already come out, and since I’ll be visiting the city in a couple of days, I thought I might as well share that review, here.

(I’ll be giving a talk on Chernobyl and the Anthropocenic sublime at the Visual Culture Research Center on Oct. 25, and another, on the environmental humanities and the Anthropocene, at Lviv’s Ukrainian Catholic University this coming Friday.)

Given what has happened in the city over the two years since the book first came out, Continue Reading »

Sabbatical note

It gives me pleasure to share the news that I’ve been named the Steven Rubenstein Professor for Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. The position provides some teaching release and a budget enabling me to work on my proposed project of developing a new center for eco-arts, media, and culture (or something of the sort), to be based here at the university.

While it’s an outgrowth of things we have been doing for a while here (such as the recent Sixth Extinction Howl), the center is a few years away, and its ultimate form will be dependent on various contingencies. But I take the committee’s decision as welcome recognition that the arts and humanities are — and ought to be — central to environmental scholarship and action today. Those of us in the environmental humanities have long argued that, but its recognition in a school of “environment and natural resources” is unusual.

There’s irony in that term “natural resources” for me.  Continue Reading »

I recently found myself in a part of Mississauga, Ontario (a bedroom community of Toronto), in which more than 90% of the visible landscape (excepting the sky) appeared to consist of concrete, in the form of pavement, asphalt, buildings, and such. The remaining 5-10% — rows of evenly spaced short trees, shrubs, a few patches of mowed lawn, and windows — looked like one could easily peel them off to reveal the concrete beneath them.

It had been a while since I’d found myself in such a scene, so there was some aesthetic and emotional revulsion to the experience. But what it reminded me of is that our entire social and technological order — from buildings and infrastructure to art forms, values, and religious and family planning practices (or lack thereof) — needs to be reinvented from the ground up so as to accommodate ecological principles. And very soon.  Continue Reading »

I’ll be giving the following talk at the “Popular Culture, Religion, and the Anthropocene” workshop at the National University of Singapore this coming week.

Navigating the Zone of Alienation: Chernobyl and the Anthropocenic Sublime

Abstract:

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Lexington’s Ecocritical Theory and Practice Series just got its own catalogue, which tells us the series is doing well.

As is Wilfrid Laurier’s Environmental Humanities series, Routledge’s series of the same, Bloomsbury’s Environmental Cultures, and others in the same vein. I can hardly keep up.

Note: The original post included an incorrect link to the Lexington series. That has been corrected.

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Today is World Listening Day, a global event held annually to

  • Celebrate the listening practices of the world and the ecology of its acoustic environments;
  • Raise awareness about the growing number of individual and group efforts that creatively explore Acoustic Ecology based on the pioneering efforts of the World Soundscape Project, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, La Semaine du Son, Deep Listening Institute, among many others;
  • Design and implement educational initiatives that explore these concepts and practices.

This year’s theme is “Sounds Lost and Found.” Continue Reading »

Damian White has posted an excellent review of Janet Biehl’s book Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin at the Jacobin blog. Bookchin’s legacy has undergone something of a revival of late thanks to the efforts of Kurdish eco-socialist communitarians in Rojava.

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This post follows up on my previous note about Alfred North Whitehead’s time spent in Greensboro, Vermont. It was updated on July 7, 2016, thanks to information obtained from the Mitchells’ descendants.

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I have found out where the Whiteheads stayed when he was writing his philosophical magnum opus, Process and Reality. It was in a two-story cottage owned by economist Wesley Clare Mitchell and progressive educator Lucy Sprague Mitchell. The cottage Continue Reading »

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