Charlie Hebdo

A few quick reflections on the Charlie Hebdo affair…

1. In the age of social media, we are all producers of images and meanings. The difference is only a matter of degree.

2.  In a globalized world, those who traffic in media ought to have some knowledge of the cultural and ethical implications of their trafficking.

3. This means we are all called to develop our own standards for engagement in global media — our own “cultural policies.” So, for instance, when a faith group of 1.6 billion, or at least a significant proportion of them, believes that their prophet should not be depicted in images, and particularly not irreverently — that’s their cultural policy — each of us who traffics in media production needs to decide whether and how we will abide by that.

This blog, with its two to three hundred subscribers and score of other visitors, hardly qualifies in the ranks of Charlie Hebdo, which traffics at a far higher scale and knows full well the kind of effects it wants to trigger. Hebdo is in the business of iconoclasm, perhaps even iconoclash — that’s its cultural policy and its raison d’être.

But we all traffic in a world of iconoclashes, where the standards of modernism — free right to full visual and narrative expression, and so on — are not accepted by all, nor maybe even by a majority.

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Two kinds of historical turning points define our era.

The first kind involves the retrospective identification of new forms of enclosure, exploitive intensification, or system derailment. Debates over the beginnings of a recession, or of a war, or — on a larger scale — of the Anthropocene, are about this kind of backdating: how far back do we trace the beginnings of a crisis we are well in the midst of, but which we have only belatedly come to recognize?

The second kind identify “peaks” of a certain form of exploitation, such as “peak oil,” which mark the moments at which the viability of a crucial resource begins to reverse direction and force a scramble for replacements.

To the latter kind we can now add 2014 (roughly) as the year of “peak wild fish.” As the Breakthrough Institute‘s Marian Swain details in this Slate article, aquaculture surpassed wild capture as our main source of seafood for the first time this year. Swain accepts that there is no going back, and optimistically describes a scenario in the “not-so-distant future” when consumers “may be aghast to find out that their sustainably farmed halibut was actually trawled from a commercial fishery.” What, not from a farm? Throw it out, then.

That seems a bit like arguing that fresh air sucks compared to the exhaust you breathe in the middle of Boston’s Central Artery Tunnel. But whether it’s preferable or not isn’t the point. The point is that we are crossing these thresholds regularly now, like salmon on their way to an ocean who won’t have a river to spawn in when it comes time for that.

No going back. (Notch up one more point for the increasing relevance of Whitehead, for whom there is only always the movement forward.)


The latest issue of the open-access Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, an issue devoted to “Gilles Deleuze and Moving Images,” includes a review by Niall Flynn of my book Ecologies of the Moving Image. Another recent review of EMI can be found in the The Journal of Ecocriticism. And I’ve mentioned the Environmental Humanities Book Chat devoted to the book, and Harlan Morehouse’s Society & Space interview with me about the book. I’ve been sent two other forthcoming reviews, to appear in the journals Aether (which, judging by its web site, seems to have gone into some hiatus) and JSRNC.

All the reviews I’ve seen so far are fairly detailed, for which I’m grateful, and I think that all appreciate the ambition, complexity, and nuance intended by the film’s theoretical model (which more than one reviewer calls “compelling”) and by the recursive method of its delivery. It appears from these readings that my strategy for overcoming binaries — through a layered, interactive, and dynamic “triadism” — seems to work, even if it takes patience to figure out and remains difficult to summarize.

The 40-minute EH Book Chat goes into the greatest depth at critiquing the book, and I’ll address one of the recurrent points raised in that video presentation here.

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Academic trend watchers will be interested to see how the digital and the Anthropocene have catapulted to the top of hot topics at this year’s American Anthropological Association conference. (A few others are mentioned here and here, Bruno Latour’s keynote being one of them. Here’s a collection of tweets on Latour’s talk, most of them by Jenny Carlson. And for those with more catching up to do, see the series on the ontological turn last year, and my own account of missing Latour then.)

John Hartigan has an interesting post on Somatosphere that compares the suddenly off-the-scale theoretical cachet attained by the term “Anthropocene” against the funkier, more earthbound, and more discipline specific term “multispecies” (its disciplinary specificity still mostly confined to anthropologists and STS folks).

What just happened in Anthropology?” Hartigan asks.

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Note: This is an updated version of a previously posted notice.

Our Environmental Studies program has announced a cluster hire — a search for three new tenure-track professors, at multiple levels from Assistant Professor to Program Director, under the overall umbrella of “Sustainability Studies and Global Environmental Equity.”

Details on the cluster hire can be read here. Details on the Program Director position can be found here. A list of potential courses to be taught by the new faculty can be found here. And here is a list of members of the search committee (we value transparency).

For full consideration, applications should be received by January 5.

The program web site is here. These three positions are being hosted by the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. (The Environmental Program is a cross-college, interdisciplinary environmental studies program, but it is administered through the Rubenstein School.)

The deadline for proposals to next year’s Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) conference — arguably the largest and leading ecocritical conference in the world — is coming up in a few weeks.

The conference theme is “Notes from Underground: The Depths of Environmental Arts, Culture and Justice.” Keynotes will include Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing, Linda Hogan, and a host of others.

Details below and here.

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More information here and here.

Not all Wet’suwet’en agree. See here and the video here.

With its passage of Act 120 this past June, Vermont became the first U.S. state to require mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). (This followed Connecticut’s and Maine’s decisions to require it once adjacent states do.) Since then, GMO food manufacturers have announced they will challenge that decision in court. Meanwhile, critics of GMOs have come under fire from some surprising places.

Vandana Shiva is probably the best known critic of genetically modified foods. The prominent environmentalist, who was critiqued in an August article by Michael Specter in the New Yorker, spoke here (in Burlington, Vermont) over the weekend.

For those interested in following the debate that’s followed Specter’s article, I’ve compiled the main sources on it below.








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A journalist asked me to say something about the use of animal mascots for commercial purposes. In an email, she wrote:

“What does a brand owe an animal mascot, especially one at risk? For instance, polar bears face rapid habitat loss, yet Coke has only donated $2 million to the WWF for conservation efforts. There’s also Kellogg’s Tiger, or Tony the Tiger, yet there are only 3,200 tigers left in the wild.”

Here are my thoughts.

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I am about to travel to Asheville, North Carolina, for the Ecomusics and Ecomusicologies conference, to be held from Thursday through Monday at the University of North Carolina Asheville. The international conference, which has become an annual event (it met previously in Brisbane, Australia, and in New Orleans), brings together theorists and researchers with performers and practitioners. Panels on topics including “musical collaboration, improvisation, green industry practices, acoustic ecology, ecopoetics, soundscapes, sustainability, contemporary composition, musical activism and other fields” will be complemented by concerts, performances, and sound installations. Details can be found here.

In the meantime, several other things in my In-Box deserve sharing:

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