I’ve just come across the earliest outline I wrote for the course I’m currently teaching (in its third incarnation), “Environmental Literature, Arts, and Media.” The course has also turned into a book project I’m working on, which will be a thematic primer to the environmental arts and humanities. Both course and book have changed shape so profoundly that this original outline is hardly visible in them. But I like this list of themes, so I thought I’d share it. Let me know if you think there’s anything important that I’ve missed.
You may take this as more optimistic blathering from within the pessimistic morass, but here goes.
Those of us who teach environmental studies — who teach impressionable young adults about the colossal challenges facing humanity in the coming decades, with the looming climate crisis, resource wars and (human and nonhuman) refugee crises, and mass extinction on a scale unseen for 66 million years — have to come up with ways to keep our students from losing all hope and sinking into a nihilistic abyss. More knowledge can sometimes just be debilitating. “Nothing to be done,” as Gogo and Didi remind each other while waiting for Godot.
Where do we find the hope that can complement our students’ new-found pessimism about the current human situation?
I find it in two places. Continue Reading »
With lines like these:
These days, it takes a course release for an academic to keep up with the avalanche of books being published with titles that feature the word “Anthropocene.”
To read them would take a sabbatical. Doing anything approximating a “slow read” would require, well, retirement.
But that’s no reason not to try. Here’s just a quick sample of recent titles, some by known authors, others by new names (to me, at least). Comments and additions welcome. Continue Reading »
Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) has made my Cultures of Energy talk available on their YouTube channel. It’s a longer version of the material I presented at the SCMS “Post-Cinema” panel. Here’s the abstract:
This paper thinks through the intersections of three developments: (1) the much debated “end of cinema” and its replacement by what has (lazily) been called “post-cinema”; (2) the future end of carbon capitalism and its replacement by something yet to be named; and (3) an upsurge in speculative philosophy that reconceptualizes sociality, materiality, and semiosis in novel and challenging ways.
Other talks from that workshop can be viewed there as well.
Now that Laudato Si, the Papal Encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” is available for all to read, the punditocracy can debate it to their hearts’ content. As the most far-reaching statement by the single largest (relatively united) religious denomination on the planet, it is likely to have an immense impact on global conversations around what is probably the single most important issue facing humanity — climate change and its accompanying human and ecological effects.
My initial thought upon reading it is that Pope Francis is signalling a redirection within the Catholic Church (as he has been doing all along, but not so explicitly around environmental concerns) and, at the same time, contributing importantly (if implicitly) toward the building of a broad-based alliance around the goals of the climate justice movement.
To have the world’s leading religious figure make a statement like this one — heavily anticipated and already leaked out in draft form — will be a game-changer. And a godsend (literally for some, figurally for most) to the climate justice community — which, after all, should be all of us.
One of the films that gets a lengthy treatment in my book Ecologies of the Moving Image is Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, about the death of Timothy Treadwell at the hands of a brown bear in Alaska. I characterized it there as a complex and nuanced film that provides a series of somewhat contradictory — but cognitively and affectively compelling — approaches to the human-animal boundary.
What I neglected to examine in any depth was Herzog’s nod to the Alutiiq Native population to help make his own case about that boundary. I should have done that. A film about relations between humans and bears in a part of the world where such relations have existed for centuries requires delving into what Latour and Stengers would call their “cosmopolitics” — the ways in which they have been shaped and continue to affect divergent forms of “naturecultural” coexistence beyond the “modern constitution” of Euro-American modes of thought and practice.
Filmmaker (and UVM graduate student) Finn Yarbrough took up this issue in a short paper for the course I’ve just finished teaching. The paper ranges insightfully from the film’s queerish gender subtext to Alutiiq shamanism. I’m sharing that paper as a guest post below, with Finn’s permission. — A.I.
Graham Harman’s reply to my critical response to his book Bruno Latour: Reassembling the Political, which appeared as part of a book symposium in Global Discourse earlier this year, is readable online, here.
I won’t address the details of that reply here. Some of them relate to our divergent interpretations of Latour, and since Harman has now written two books (and more) about Latour, I am sure he will be able to come up with counter-examples to any examples I provide in support of my interpretation. As Harman suspects, what Latour says is not really the issue for me (though I have an interest in it).
The bottom line in our disagreement is the same as ever: Continue Reading »
Two news bits from the past week or so:
(1) The UN has announced that the proportion of people who are chronically undernourished in the world has fallen by nearly half — from 23.3% to 12.9% — over the last 25 years. Only a handful of countries — Haiti, North Korea, Zambia, Namibia, and the Central African Republic — remain in the high hunger category, which means that over 35% of their populations are chronically hungry.
(2) The Canadian government-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Justice Murray Sinclair (who is Ojibway), has concluded its six-year report by naming Canada’s many decades-long “residential school” system for indigenous youth a form of “cultural genocide.”
The latter may not sound like good news, but for those who already knew that it was that, official recognition is a significant victory.
Make of those what you will.
I’ve reported previously on how critics see the “Anthropocene” concept as overgeneralizing from the causal nuances of actual responsibility for climate (and global system) change. In an excellent summary of recent writing on the topic, ecosocialist climate observer Ian Angus answers the question “Does Anthropocene science blame all humanity?” with a definitive “no.”
That doesn’t mean that the term doesn’t lend itself to a blanket all-humanity-is-to-blame position. It just shows that its main proponents do not, in fact, hold such a position.
The debate continues.