Breakout Session 1
Panel Chair: Elena Gorfinkel
◊ Jami Weinstein, “Cruising Dystopias: Queerfeminist Futurities and The Anthropocene”
Feminists and queers have a history of imagining the future. However, it is not only an optimistic focus on potential future worlds but also an ontological futurity at the heart of queerness and womanness. Jose Muñoz opens his Cruising Utopias with precisely this concept: “Queerness is not yet here…queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’s domain.” (1) Analogously, woman, as Gilles Deleuze describes her, “is indissolvably the possibility of being and the being of the possible,” (19) “the expression of a possible world.” (18)
The essential claim of the anthropocene is that anthropogenic effects will leave a legible scar on the planet into the future, even after human extinction. In other words, the past will be the human future – humans being potentially immortal in their legibility. But whose future is this anthropocene future? It is the Humanist future, the future of the legible and legibility.
Humanism itself creates normative standards of legibility by which all others are read, controlled, disciplined, and assigned to fixed and hierarchical social statuses. As such, so many among us have been excluded from the elite status of being considered fully human, and bear the scars, are illegibile, as a result.
This presentation will thus consider two interrelated themes: (1) the juxtaposition of the temporalities of queerfeminists and Humanism, and (2) scars and legibility with respect to the anthropocene, Humanism, queers, and women.
◊ Claire Brault, “Capitalocentric Temporality as Uchronia: Futurological Climate Sciences Rush to Gaia’s Deathbed”
The modern conception of time as linear and coterminous with progress and growth has been called into doubt in the late 20th century. Scholarship on the ‘anthropocene’ has gone some distance toward critiquing dominant conceptions of time. And yet, even the nascent sciences of the anthropocene retain a masculinist streak; our societal commitment to “growth” seems to remain beyond critique.
Mine is an attempt to “queer” anthropocene temporalities. To that end, and building on the concept of ‘utopia’, I conceptualize and critique a temporality that assumes infinite growth in a finite world. The term I propose is “uchronia”: growth-driven progress is a timeless, dangerously idealized temporality, just like utopia is both a nowhere place and an ideal place.
I examine climatological discourses, which pose the question of our future in new ways, constituting themselves as a “futurology.” Climatology queers our present by inventing multiple scenarios for our futures. Yet, an increasing number of climatologists and policy makers advocate for geoengineering to secure an unsustainable “uchronian” future, dependent upon growth.
I read this tension through Isabelle Stengers’ concept of stupidity. I demonstrate the gendered and temporal nature of this stupidity: scientific discourses legitimize the deployment of giant shields in the atmosphere as a quick fix to lower the Earth’s temperature by depicting the planet as a sick old woman in urgent need of masculine protection. I advocate for an ecofeminist temporality which practices “idiocy” instead, a queer, “heterochronian” encouragement to slow down, to pause long enough to think the radical change required by the urgent demands of the anthropocene.
◊ Miriam Tola, “Isabelle Stengers and Feminism: Deep Futures Beyond the Anthropocene”
This paper brings the philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers into the fold of feminism to explore modes of political engagement in the Anthropocene. I use Stengers’ writings on the “intrusion of Gaia” to move in-between two strands of feminism. On the one hand, posthuman feminist thinkers foreground the earthly forces that enable and exceed the scope of human existence. On the other hand, ecofeminism illuminates how the current political economy feeds on the enclosure of land, social knowledge and reproductive practices. Drawing from both strands of thought, I show how Stengers’ displaces the notion of the anthropos as the primary force that makes the world, and argues instead for a politics of composition of disparate forces and beings. My argument is twofold. First, I argue that whereas the prevalent discourse on the Anthropocene emphasizes the influence of the human species on its milieu, Stengers’ “intrusion of Gaia” shifts attention to multiple regimes of existence that characterize life on earth, to an eventfulness beyond the agency of particular species or beings. Thus, she challenges any notion of planetary restoration of equilibrium and human stewardship. Second, I suggest that, against the tendency to equate politics in the Anthropocene with global governance, Stengers’ work highlights practices of resistance to the new enclosures that are also critical —albeit from a different angle— to ecofeminism. In privileging a politics of “emergence without transcendence,” Stengers’ argues that such practices do not carry universal promises or guarantees of redemption but, on the contrary, work through the unknowns that might stem from experimental modes of being-in-common.
Panel Chair: Jessi Lehman
◊ Kai Bosworth, “Porous bodies :: porous earth: permeable spaces of feminist geophilosophy”
The declaration and entrance into the Anthropocene demands a feminism which responds to the geophysical forces and materials in and through which social life is formed. In particular, the thought of Julia Kristeva and Claire Colebrook is queried for uncovering a relation between our leaky and permeable bodies and the subterranean architectonics of the Earth, a dark geologic life that exceeds any ecological point of view. This paper develops one possible route for feminist thought and action through an empirical and theoretical engagement with the forces and powers shared and lost between the body of the Earth and various social and collective bodies in environmental politics and new uranium and petroleum mining practices in western North and South Dakota. Earth forces and geomorphological processes, aquifers, activist groups, scientists, Native American tribes and land, extractive corporations, and formations of settler colonialism are variously secured and smeared into one another in slow and violent ways. Yet lodged in between these bodies, new political formations and what Stacy Alaimo has called ‘insurgent vulnerabilities’ are also generated. What limits and potentials emerge and fade away in the porous materials engaged by collective social and geologic bodies? A feminist geophilosophy for the Anthropocene encourages forays into the material composition and decomposition of gender, race and white privilege – out of not only discourses and spaces, but bodies, technologies, infrastructures and flows of matter, energy and capital.
◊ Kathryn Yusoff, “Coal: queer genealogies in/of the blood”
While science has provided the stratigraphic context of the Anthropocene—and with it a notion of geologic agency—the humanities might take as its project the critical extension and speculative explication of this geontology. If the “geologic turn” signals an engagement with the mineralogical dimensions of humanity, then there must be something buried in the composition of the human—as conceptual and corporeal body—that is already geological, such that the human can become a geomorphic agent in the Anthropocene. And, we might presuppose that these mineralogical affiliations differentiate the potential of bodies to be what they are, and what they might become (or not). Yet the trace of this geology, in its undifferentiated temporal and material expanse—its nonlocal elements—is difficult to locate as a mode of substantive subjectification. While the Anthropocene poses geologic time as an inhuman supplement to the milieu that is both before and after “us”, it also needs to be articulated as compositional to this epoch; its pleasures, modes of exhaustion and specific mineralogical affiliations. This inhuman supplement has a queer genealogy in so much as it has innumerable sites of origins and an un timely disposition that interrupts the possibility of a straightforward genealogical account. Through underground passages, sexual politics, black lungs and striking solidarities, this paper explores the inter-implications of substances and subjects in coal mining; explicitly, to elaborate on an inhuman sociality of the blood . I argue that this “blood knowledge” of coal can be considered as a fleshy reminder of the geontological forces of black rocks and their inheritances. Such a permeable materiality of fossil fuels might just bear on the reconceptualisation of the Anthropocene as an epoch charcaterised by a differentiated corporeal geology of/in the blood, rather than as a universal line in the sand.
◊ Rory Rowan, “Bodies Politic/Bodies Geologic: Difference, Universality and the Subject of the Anthropocene”
This paper examines some of the challenges that the Anthropocene presents for political thought. In particular it seeks to question what forms of political subjectivity might emerge in the ‘geological age of man’, this planetary entanglement of bodies politic and geologic, where the boundaries between the human and the natural, nevermind those between the political and other spheres of human life, are apparently collapsing. It will argue that the emergence of a hybrid planet, where human activity is shaping the earth’s fundamental systems, complicates and intensifies canonical problems in political philosophy. The focus here will fall on how the Anthropocene sheds new tension on the relationship between difference and universality, a frequently fraught relation that feminist thought has long been at the forefront of negotiating. On the one hand, the depoliticizing universalism implicit in the Anthropocene can be undermined by unearthing the strata of sexual difference buried beneath the supposedly singular subject of an undifferentiated ‘Anthropos’. On the other, any attempt to conceive of politics in planetary terms – as the Anthropocene would appear to demand – tends towards the universalizing horizon of life on earth, where social differences are bracketed by the existence of inhuman natural forces and the possibility of human existence. The paper will argue that although the Anthropocene might escalate and deepen these tensions, the intensification of geo-social entanglements might also present an opportunity to rearticulate the relationship between difference and universality in ways that create novel new formations of political subjectivity.
Panel Chair: Michael Oldani
◊ Selmin Kara, “Feminist Anthropocenema”
The concept of anthropocenema, or cinema in the age of human-caused mass extinctions, builds upon the concept of “primordigital cinema” (Grusin and Kara 2013), which refers to an atavistic tendency in 21st century film to return to its pre-digital origins. My previous work has approached this question of origins at the level of ontology and photographic realism, focusing on a cluster of films that explored tropes of primordiality and extinction through an amalgamation of digital and analog aesthetics (Kara 2014). Interestingly, in films like The Tree of Life, The Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Nostalgia for the Light, these tropes enabled filmmakers to go beyond mourning the loss of celluloid-based film’s indexical grounds for realism and the attempt to return to it, instead turning their gaze to a cinematic time that pre-dates and survives beyond not only cinema but also human and terrestrial life itself – a time which can only be presented cinematically within the scope of digital technologies’ speculative (rather than photographic) realism.
This paper will take these engagements with primordiality and extinction in 21st century cinema further; instead of focusing solely on atavism, it will contextualize the rising interest in the filmic representations of these two essentially non-human tropes within the recent ecological debates surrounding the anthropocene and the affective/embodied point of views of female characters. According to Dipesh Chakrabarty, the idea of the anthropocene has to do with the “contemporary moods of anxiety and concern about the finitude of humanity” in light of the current planetary crisis of climate change and human-caused mass extinctions. What is interesting in recent films with realist as well as science-fictional narratives (including Melancholia, Gravity, Prometheus, The Tree of Life, and The Beasts of the Southern Wild) is that this anxiety gets persistently conveyed through the subjective POV of female characters, who are portrayed as mapping their melancholic or elegiac psychic states over tropes of primordiality and extinction. By analyzing these films, then, I will argue that faced with the possibility and question of our own extinction in the 21st century, we are witnessing a shift to what one might call an anthropocenematic aesthetics in cinema, which shares feminism’s post-cyborg theory sensitivities about human, nonhuman, and nature relationships.
◊ Melody Jue, “Noise Pollution: Anthropo-scenes Beyond Geologic Thought”
The Anthropocene is anchored in the fields of geology and stratigraphy. This imports a variety of implications for how we think about time and the material of history. Stratigraphers studying rock layers of the Earth seek to find a specific transition moment for when the Anthropocene “started,” chasing the fantasy of a single, equally distributed moment of collective human impact when in fact human-non-human impact may very well be multiple, heterogenous, and most importantly, a process of both building and erasure. Yet not all the traces of human influence may be writ in the rock. Feminist science studies and epistemology (Haraway, Carson, Irigaray) are necessary to think forms of participatory climate change that go beyond the geologic.
Towards this, I turn to the example of “noise pollution” in two forms: increases in shipping traffic, a kind of white noise, and the use of high-decibel sonar by oil companies and the military. Among the scientific community there are strong speculations that such high-decibel testing damages whale ears in such as way as to disable their abilities to navigate properly, leading to increased beachings. If one definition of pollution is “the presence or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful of poisonous effects,” is it adequate to describe “noise pollution”? To what extent do our epistemic techniques (i.e. mapping the seafloor through sonar) change elements of what they measure (i.e. animal bodies detected by sonar)? What are the multispecies affects of noise?
◊ Michael Oldani, “Deep Pharma: Anthropology as Pharmaceutical Detox”
Breakout Session 2
Panel Chair: Carl Bogner
◊ Lauran Whitworth, “The Erotics of Ecosexuality: from G-Spots to E-spots”
This paper stems from a series of questions pertaining to erotics and the natural environment. Its guiding inquiries concern the ethical dimensions of Eros, in particular, the role nature might play in erotic-ethical configurations. The subject of this paper is the contemporary EcoSexual and SexEcology movement popularized by Annie Sprinkle and her co-collaborator and partner Elizabeth Stephens. The artistic duo describes SexEcology as “a new field of research exploring the places sexology and ecology intersect.”
This paper examines EcoSexuality as emblematic of efforts to sustain the Earth while sustaining sex-positivity and queerness. In addition, I consider EcoSexuality’s relationship to its ecofeminist antecedents as well as how SexEcology’s posthumanist tendencies distinguish it from other sexually-charged environmental efforts such as Fuck For Forest (FFF). As such, this paper asks: In what ways does EcoSexuality challenge and queer prevailing discourses of sexuality (i.e. the predominance of genitally-focused sexual practices and penetrative sex as well as the privileging of monogamous, heterosexual relations)? Beyond environmental stewardship, what ethics does EcoSexuality promote, and what role does Eros play therein? Aware of Foucauldian weariness of “the repressive hypothesis” (that saying “yes” to sex—in the woods or anywhere else—is saying “no” to the repressive powers that be), this paper nonetheless asserts that the erotic ethics of EcoSexual acts can be understood as an embodiment of Donna Haraway’s “becoming with,” demonstrating that “to be one is always to become with many.”
◊ Elizabeth Stephens, “Natural but not too Natural: Ecosex Encounters on the Edge”
Growing up in the belly of the West Virginia coalfields, I breathed in the black dust that helped burn a hole in the ozone and made the rivers so acidic that the water now decays teeth and worse. After more than three centuries of resource extraction in Appalachia, the scope of destruction is greater than ever before. Earth moving machines have scaled-up to giant proportions and when used in combination with explosives, they are able to remove whole mountains, along with their human and nonhuman inhabitants, to feed the world’s unending appetite for electricity. Goodbye Gauley Mountain: an Ecosexual Love Story documents the Earth altering activity of mountain top removal (MTR) while it follows Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, two ecosexuals who incorporate Donna Haraway’s “staying with the trouble,” of this massively destructive form of coal mining. Even as Stephens and Sprinkle witness the ecological, ethical and economic havoc that MTR wreaks, they introduce the practice of ecosexuality as a subversive act of pleasure in the face of despair, as well as a strategy for making the environmental activist movement a little more sexy, fun and diverse. Given the consequences of these radical ecological changes, what artists Helen and Newton Harrison call the “Force Majeure,” Sprinkle and Stephens offer performative and theoretical alternatives to counter the hopelessness and cynicism that often accompanies the Anthropocene. By inviting others to think of ‘Earth as lover’ we deploy a creative system of embodied care, empathy and an expanded sexual practice to honor and hopefully pleasure this planet we call home.
To view a two minute trailer of the film see http://goodbyegauleymountain.org
For more about Stephens and Sprinkle’s work see http://sexecology.org
Panel Chair: Keith Woodward
◊ Arun Saldanha, “Sexual difference and chthonic universality”
To undermine the geosocial formations which in a blink ushered the planet into a new, disastrous epoch of its 4.5 billion year history requires a form of universality that does not reproduce the smuggled-in white masculine middle-class biases of earlier universalisms. Luce Irigaray provides a radical conceptual framework for understanding how the capitalism and colonialism that spread industrialized production, consumption, and transport across the planet have at base a structural affinity with the masculine subject position. She would say that the anthropos of the Anthropocene belies the false universality that is Man, constituted by the archaic and ongoing erasure of the feminine perspective from knowledge, art, and the way culture thinks itself as different from nature. For Irigaray sexual difference permeates the entire cosmos, but as apprehended by humans. This paper proposes a feminist universality on the basis of an immanent critique of Irigaray’s work, tying her feminist valorizations of the fluid, the earthy, and the dark, a realm Jung called chthonic, to the recent turn towards thinking the earth in the wake of Heidegger and Deleuze and Guattari. Unlike a tendency in both Jung and Irigaray to romanticize and essentialize the obscure maternality of the earth, a tendency also found in environmental philosophy, ecofeminism, and Gaia theory, this paper’s chthonic retrieves the more violent sacrificial dimension of the chthonic from Greek mythology, which is not necessarily any better than the Olympian or Apollonian realm. Moreover, it is impossible to reduce capitalism, and hence the Anthropocene, to an expression of sexual difference alone, precisely because it consists of geosocial formations which depend on profoundly asexual inorganic forces. There is no political value, therefore, in theorizing a possible return to the feminine earth-fold. As Marx foresaw, disrupting the planet’s mad march to catastrophe has to fully and smartly engage the false universalities that humanism and capital unleashed.
◊ Elizabeth Johnson, “Beyond Productions of Ignorance: Agnotologies of the Anthropocene”
While providing renewed traction for thinking—and thinking with—the earth, the emergent concepts of the Anthropocene and geophilosophy share similar dangers. Like the social and ecological threats they consider—climate change, ecological degradation, and the rapid advance of late capitalism—these concepts risk devaluing difference, divergence, and local expressions of life: in the Anthropocene, it would seem that “we” all must learn to live and die on the same earth.
A politics of and with nonhuman entities that builds from such a “we” can easily tend toward tend toward universalizing discourses that threaten to re-enact a historically persistent, largely gendered, violence of erasure that has accompanied transformations around practices of knowledge production. Drawing on Silvia Federici’s work on primitive accumulation as well as Londa Schiebinger’s research into abortion-inducing plants in the Caribbean, the paper traces these erasures into the present. Seeing this as a production of ignorance, we offer a gendered “agnotology” of the Anthropocene.
We turn to more-than-human geographies and STS texts on knowledge production, which together offer a potential antidote to these problems of erasure associated with the singular figure of “we”. Revalorizing haecceities, more-than-human geographies gesture to experimental practices of creation and knowing that grow from the connective tissues between humans and nonhuman others. Extending these trajectories alongside Marx’s conception of the “general intellect,” we argue that in constituting a future in the Anthropocene, we need to carefully consider more “pluripotent” practices of knowing life—and death.
◊ Sara Nelson, “Beyond neoliberal natures: transformation and critical political economy in the Anthropocene”
This paper asks how feminist thought might contribute to an affirmative critique of political economy in the Anthropocene. There is now a wide-ranging critical literature that has demonstrated how market-based exploitation. Notwithstanding its important contributions, this literature has mainly advanced what Eve Sedgwick called a “paranoid” critique, in which the critic reveals power structures in order to forestall surprise – to escape being fooled. But if we are to acknowledge the truly ‘critical’ nature of climate change – as a threshold between existence and extinction – why reveal what we already know (e.g. that emissions trading fails to slow the accumulation of atmospheric CO2 while accelerating the accumulation of capital)? Moreover, given the radical uncertainty of climate change, how might criticism seek out and learn from surprise? Drawing the work of feminist political economists and feminist materialists together with recent ecological literature theorizing transformation in social-ecological systems (the emergence of a radically new system from the destruction of the old), this paper suggests an experimental criticsm that maps trajectories for novel change and emergence, and seeks to identify strategies for embarking on these trajectories. Beyond exposing the realities of exploitation, this paper asks how a critical practice might access the fissures in financialized nature as openings for alternative productions of social wealth as common.
Panel Chair: Dehlia Hannah
◊ Astrida Neimanis and Kathryn High, “(Unintentionally) Extremophilic in the Anthropocene”
Our journey to the post-anthropogenic Sub-Arctic began in 2011 when Oron Catts “discovered” the site of a WWII bomber crash in Finnish Lapland—an anthropogenic incursion folded, almost imperceptibly, into this seemingly wild Northern tundra landscape. Two years later, a team of artists, poets and writers returned to further unearth this history. On the surface, this is a story of a military-industrial complex, territorial expansion, traumatic witness, local development, and even biomedical breakthrough. A human-centered narrative of military and technological might populate this “empty” nature. But what other stories are hidden in the layers of metadata and might be dug up through different modes of storytelling? Our research includes metagenomic analysis (in collaboration with Tromso University) of the charred, “unremediated” crash site soil with the thought that we might detect the presence of extremophiles – organisms that thrive in conditions that would be detrimental to most life on Earth. As postwar botanists discovered, anthropogenic incursions such as bombs are powerful catalysts for the proliferation of rare and alien species. Might we understand extremophiles—as organism, as story, as transformation, as a way of getting through the day—as just another mode of presencing multiple pasts in the gestation of concrete imaginaries for another world? Through a montage of video footage, photography, and poetry, this performance tells a story about speculative storytelling, and about queer and unintentional naturecultures in the so-called Anthropocene.
◊ Gabriel Piser and Brett Zehner, “Becoming Bodies: Affective Circuits in the Bakken Gas Fields”
Zones of extraction, such as North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields, express complex circuits of material and affective exchange. These circuits connect non/human actors, landscapes, and conceptual/techno-scientific machines. As the pace of extractive development increases, so do the economic and ecological impacts of these exchanges. Beyond that, extractive development brings a significant increase in gendered and sexual violence, human trafficking, drug abuse, and property crime. While scholarship (Sawyer and Gomez 2012) has been done to understand many of the impacts brought on by extractive development, without affect-focused research, its analytical power is diminished. How, then, to better see the effects of neoliberal extractive development and contest the violence it creates? Our project responds to these questions by diagramming affective and other material circuits, while placing an emphasis on desire and political power. This presentation introduces a collaborative mobile media lab that maps the impacts of extractive development at the speed of extractive development. Valuing tools capable of thinking and feeling through these circuits, we use an interdisciplinary methodology, informed by critical participatory action research and feminist geo-philosophy. Our multi-sited research project diagrams and transforms participant’s affective relationships through visual art and creative writing based encounters. In addition, it draws on participatory archival analysis, critical ethnography, and interviews to bolster its descriptive and transformative power. This paper and multimedia presentation will cover our preliminary findings from the Bakken Plateau, describe the current status of the project, and invite participation as we refine our project’s future trajectory.
Breakout Session 3
Panel Chair: Katherine Behar
◊ Heather Davis, “The Queer Futurity of Plastic”
The time of the anthropocene could be understood as forcing the time of geology and the biosphere to the speed of advanced capitalism. This same geologic time has been marked by the introduction of an abundance of petrochemical compounds, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and plastics that carry with them their own long, even geologic, time. Indeed, these scientific inventions could be understood as nonhuman filial progeny, descendants who will most likely outlive our own species. Taking as my primary example the recalcitrant polymer molecules known as plastic, this paper will address the asynchronous time frames of the anthropocene. Extending historicity well into the deep future, I am concerned with what unintentional new ecologies or queer relations are being produced by plastic. What times scales does plastic introduce, what processes of slowing down or recalcitrance are found in the midst of intense and rapid change?
Synthetic polymers may be the strongest bonds that human invention has produced, but they will not last forever. Anthony Andrady, a leading scientist in the study of plastics, estimates the life-span of plastic at 100, 000 years. Try as we might through chemical engineering to escape the bonds of the earth, we are inextricably part of its endless processes of mutation and evolution. Taking a perspective of both time and biological diversity that is not connected directly with the human shows our projections of mastery as quite impactful, but ultimately as merely one event amongst numerous others in the geologic time of the earth. The question, then, is how to gracefully respond to compounding injustices within these tumultuous, strange times.
◊ Nicole Starosieleski, “Calibrating a Sense of Environment: Artificial Cooling and the Biopolitics of Thermoception”
While large-scale climate change begins to reorganize social life, in part motivating the recognition of the Anthropocene, smaller-scale temperature manipulation has long served as a biopolitical technology in the shaping of everyday bodily movement. Cooling systems have been mobilized to increase labor productivity; to reinforce existing divisions of race, class, and gender; and to cultivate particular inhabitations of the environment. As these systems create new relationalities between bodies and environments, they invisibly produce and reproduce social structures, generating forms of affect and orientation that set the stage for our embodied responses to global warming and our encounters with its seemingly inhospitable landscapes.
This paper describes the micropolitics of cooling technologies, focusing on the ways that they modulate bodily affects, media technologies, and their surrounding environments. Drawing from work in feminist science studies and new materialism, the project interrogates a set of traditional social scientific discourses about temperature, unpacking their racialized and gendered assumptions. In their place, I develop a culturally and environmentally specific conceptualization of thermoception, a sense constructed in and through engagements with technological media and bodily movements.
◊ Jamie “Skye” Bianco, “#saltNsea : just another postnatural clustermuck and paradise”
Have a seat. I offer fish, foul, organic produce and the promise of water in this beautiful Sonoran desert and its expansive, once-mountain fed #saltNsea. Ignore the smells caused by decades of annual botchalism death: endangered sea birds seeking wetlands, Mozambique tilapia stocked for a long-gone speculative desert riviera, and rotting remains other desert denizens, even the occasional anthropod in the off-La Nina year. Think of this as postnatural composting. I apologize for other smells: salinity, geothermal sulphides surfacing, pesticides and petrochemical food production. We’ve gone green #now : harvesting geothermal and wind energy and farming produce organically. Hopefully the 120-degree temperatures in summer will cook bad molecules away and not just the water. If we diverted just a bit more of the Colorado River (with all those floods, they have extra, right?) to the #saltNsea, then farmers might not siphon without filtration and the airborne alkalis that are blown by the Santa Ana winds towards Los Angeles would stay in the water. They might simply biodegrade. Are petrochemicals, pesticides, sulphides and alkalis biological? Anyway…
Not able to make a trip to this paradisiacal post-natural clustermuck, where climate change, agro-biz, California/US lack-of-water politics, necro-ecological management, speculative failures, endangered sea birds, and strange clusters of hominids come together (in a segregated sort of way) to inhabit the uninhabitable? Don’t worry! I’ll come to you and bring pictures, videos, souvenirs and a few thoughts (mine, others and maybe jostled up by the computer) and show the wonders of this second site in my tour of toxic landscapes that postnaturally resist detox and rehab
Panel Chair: Bruce Braun
◊ Angela Last, “One in Other: Bodily Interventions in the Anthropocene”
Links between both feminism and the Anthropocene can be traced to anti-imperialist resistance, with feminism highlighting the link between economic and gendered exploitation, and the Anthropocene’s proposed makers tracing military technologies, specifically nuclear explosions. This paper is interested in representatives of this resistance – thinkers who pursued forms of ‘materialist cosmopolitics’ that attempted to bridge the physical processes of the cosmos/world and the legacies of historical materialism. I will concentrate on two examples: the ‘love of the order of the world’ (amor fati) of Simone Weil and the ‘love of the world’ (amor mundi) of Hannah Arendt. I will argue that the dialogue between Arendt and Weil is relevant for thinking ‘anthropocene feminism’, as much for what they do propose as for what they seem to overlook. Amor fati enables Weil to make links between physical and political micro and macrocosms; amor mundi leads Arendt to think responsibility and care as a precondition for human existence. While both thinkers are highly sensitive to the link between imaginaries of human-world relationships and interhuman violence and oppression, they had difficulty making links with related struggles, for example with the anti-racist movement and feminism. Here, I argue that, in order to help draw feminism and the Anthropocene into this dialogue, it is useful to examine the two writers’ visions of the body as a nexus of material and political action to highlight the possibility and difficulty of negotiating (common and multiple) material and representational connections between them.
◊ Jessi Lehman, “Life and Death at/of Anthropocene Seas”
Panel Chair: Nigel Rothfels
◊ Greta Gaard, “What’s the story? Climate narratives, climate genres, and Feminist animal studies: Toward a postcolonial, material ecofeminist perspective”
In the U.S., climate change literature has largely been articulated through the genre of science fiction (“cli fi”), with its futuristic and phantasmagorical affects. These narratives, written largely by white men (i.e., T.C. Boyle, Michael Crichton, Kim Stanley Robinson), omit consideration of the material realities of climate change as experienced by women, children, elders, non-human animals, and the two-thirds world. Re-storying the narrative of climate change is already occurring on the margins—in music videos and hip hop, in non-western literatures, in creative nonfiction and diverse social movement organizations. What prevents these more holistic, species-inclusive, race- and gender-aware perspectives from influencing dominant cultural narratives about climate change and its origins, mitigation strategies, and adaptation needs?
In Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment (2010), Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin introduced animal studies into postcolonial and ecocritical discourse, but these uneasy intersections have yet to be taken up by climate change ecocritics. Both material feminisms and climate justice movements regularly ignore the findings of feminist animal studies, which expose the contributions of intensive animal agriculture to climate change, and propose the voluntary adoption of vegan diets among the world’s heaviest overconsumers (i.e., the U.S., Canada, Australia) and highlight the growing vegan movement in China as dual strategies for acknowledging the intra-action of animal-based food production, human overconsumption, unjust inequities of wealth, and climate change. Bringing together these diverse perspectives, this presentation advances ecofeminist and feminist animal studies, material feminisms, and postcolonial ecocriticism to propose a more inclusive story for understanding, teaching, and responding to climate change.
◊ Affrica Taylor and Veronica-Pacinini Ketchabaw, “Ants, worms and young children: Mutual vulnerabilities, small things, and everyday common world encounters in the Anthropocene”
In lieu of reinscribing lofty, geo-sublime and human-centric imaginaries of the Anthropocene, we turn our attention to some small-scale and down-to-earth encounters between ants, worm and young children. Our presentation is in line with feminist calls to resist the temptation to reiterate the grand and heroic human techno-fix and rescue narratives of the Anthropocene. Inspired by Donna Haraway’s (2008) multispecies relational ethics, our tales of seemingly insignificant events and minor players gesture towards how we might ‘redo ways of living and dying’ and remain upon to the possibilities of ‘re-worlding’ together (Haraway, 2013). Cognisant that the survival of our own species is also called into question in this time of anthropogenic mass species extinctions (Colebrook, 2012; Rose, 2012), we focus upon the mutual vulnerabilities, messy inheritances and complex relationalities of cohabiting in damaged common worlds.
To do this, we draw upon the multispecies ethnographies that we are undertaking in British Columbia and in the Australian Capital Territory. We recount a series of stories involving children’s regular meetings with worms in Victoria’s wet forests, and with ants in the dry bushlands of Canberra. By paying close attention to the small details of these child-animal encounters, we set out to demonstrate how an ethics of vulnerability (Hird, 2012) might attune us to our mortal entanglements and interdependencies with other species, and help us to re-think our place in the world.
◊ Diane Chisholm, “Framing the End of the Species: Ecopoetics, Extinction and Sexual Indifference”
Claire Colebrook challenges writers of the Anthropocene to invent a narrative form that thinks our way out of the delusory time frame of posthumanism. Posthumanism, Colebrook charges, paradoxically humanizes the inhuman prospects of evolution. She describes “literary Darwinism” as a symptomatic tendency of recent narrative to disavow the “decentering randomness and rogue temporalities of evolutionary processes” and to “reduce the force not only of Darwinism but of another temporal event, extinction.” Likewise, cognitive biology foresees an adaptive event whereby the human organism, through some mechanism of autopoesis, recognizes and fulfills the need to evolve symbiotically with nonhuman nature, and survives the ecological disaster wrought by a primitive, nature-alienated Man. For Colebrook, literary Darwinism, cognitive biology and other posthuman futurisms are “reaction-formations” guarding us from becoming critically conscious of the catastrophe we wreak upon ourselves and the planet, and from pondering our remaining time on earth from extinction’s extreme existential vantage. Even philosophy, she laments, denies extinction’s existential prospects with “a theological-anthropomorphic insistence on the fruitful, productive, relatively closed sexually dynamic couple.” I argue that Colebrook’s challenge to literary thinkers is met by ecopoetics, an avant-garde poetics that breaks the frame of anthropic reasoning and bad faith in light of deep time and climate change. For example, Juliana Spahr’s poem “Unnamed Dragonfly Species,” invents a new form of refrain to frame the story of how “they,” a household of internet-habituated metrosexuals become unbearably affected–to the point of psychotic collapse–by the latest news on global warming. A schizoid portrait of the “Psychozoic Era,” Spahr’s poem splits the narrative into non-communicating strata and randomly inserts between the cracks the names of endangered species with which “they” share a regional habitat. I show how this innovative narrative structure replaces the future with a widening (glocal) abyss and destroys any dream of (sexual) adaptation, prompting readers to contemplate the end in the same moment “they” crack up.
Panel Chair: Annie McClanahan
◊ Alyssa Battistoni, “From natural capital to hybrid labor: towards a feminist political ecology for the Anthropocene”
While feminist and other critical scholars have long articulated critiques of capitalist and industrial economies that seek to “dominate nature,” the concept of the Anthropocene, understood as coincident with the Industrial Revolution, poses an implicit challenge to dominant forms of political economy that, wielding the authority of Science, has prompted soul-searching in some unlikely places. A growing unease has permeated even the realm of mainstream economics, where the problem is understood largely as one of bad accounting: “natural capital” is missing from the balance sheet of the global economy. Conceived of as natural capital, ecosystems are seen as productive assets in the manner of machinery, infrastructure, or financial instruments, understood as self-organizing, self-renewing “stocks” that produce “flows” of goods and services that can be divided, bundled, circulated, managed, invested in, and accumulated. This framework simultaneously reifies an anthropocentric view of an objectified, passive natural world organized to serve humans, and erases the role of both humans and nonhumans in the “work of nature.”
Instead of understanding economies and ecologies of the Anthropocene in terms of natural capital, therefore, I argue for understanding them in terms of hybrid labor. Feminist theory has long been at the forefront of efforts to think about labor and its value, notably calling attention to reproductive, emotional, care, and clinical labor. Extending these insights, I articulate an expanded idea of labor that understands the “work of nature” as a collective, distributed undertaking of humans and nonhumans acting to (re)produce, (re)generate, restore, and renew each other and themselves—as well as to kill, degrade, destroy, decay—in creating a world in which many species can live. I describe various forms of this labor, and suggest the implications for understandings of work, subjectivity, sociality, and solidarity, as well as for the way “nature” is studied and understood.
◊ Christina Van Houten, “Critical Regionalism, Materialist Feminism, & Anthropocene Feminism: An Intellectual History”
There has lately been a re-emergence of the concept of “critical regionalism” as a geopolitical concept largely concerned with how critical regionalism might translate into a coherent feminist political project and how a feminist critical regionalism might become the foundation for an anti-capitalist program. In the work of Gayatri Spivak, Judith Butler, Saskia Sassen, Maria Mies, Silvia Federici, and Grace Lee Boggs, feminist critical regionalism re-maps critiques of neoliberal globalization, specifically responding to cultural problems of postmodernism and to the social, political, and economic conditions of globalization and neoliberalism. In the collective work of these feminists, we can see the way in which global processes are structured by local constraints, and perhaps how critical regionalism allows us to think outside of these local/global categories toward new possibilities for work, life, and community.
On this topic, I argue that the concept of critical regionalism produces several discussion points, including:
1. Because neoliberal globalization is involved in the project of “denationalization”—which serves as an umbrella term for agendas of deregulation, privatization, financialization, state redistribution, the feminization of labor and poverty, and the acceleration of uneven geographical development—critical regionalism must necessarily address the new geography of global economic processes and the strategic territories for economic globalization. This of course includes the relationship between processes of globalization and regionalization, in addition to the political critiques offered by critical regionalism.
2. Because critical regionalism is supposed to reflect and serve the needs of its locality, its framework of liberative, empowering rhetoric must be supported by action from that community. The project of critical regionalism cannot be imposed from the outside by positions of authority; it instead must be a more democratic social movement.
3. Critical regionalism must acknowledge that women’s labor is allocated between production and reproduction in each society, and how this is done is a major determinant of their social status. While there has been extended analysis focused on production, feminist critical regionalism insists on more attention to reproduction. This is a broader category than pregnancy or motherhood, and must be expanded to include all activities that produce and care for the population, including child care, care-giving, household labor, unwaged work, community services, socialization, and social wages.
Finally, an intellectual history of critical regionalism puts in tension materialist feminism and anthropocene feminism. The desire for “the commons” is also the desire for a “global feminism” within a new framework of critical regionalism, a “commons” sensitive to the central problematic of social reproduction and its implications for class, gender, race, and national origin. In our contemporary moment, critical regionalism is an attempt not only to reopen the political question of what life will be at the Anthropocene, but also what a feminist theory and practice of the Anthropocene might be.
◊ Michelle Yates, “Capitalist Patriarchy and the Radical Political Possibility of Anthropocene”
This paper intends to question the epistemological move towards the ‘anthropocene,’ especially in relation to social critique and radical politics. In using the concept of the anthropocene, do environmentalists and eco–‐feminists abstract from critical analysis and critique of socio–‐cultural, political, and economic systems that function to oppress and de -‐value women, nature, and people of color? Are there radical politics contained within the naming of the anthropocene like that exists in the naming (and critiquing) of these systems of oppression as capitalism, patriarchy, and environmental racism? Eco–‐feminist scholars have long argued that women and nature are linked, and thereby also de–‐valued, in the Western stratification system that values the linkages between masculinity and culture. What kinds of narratives are lost when conceptions of capitalism and patriarchy are encompassed by the anthropocene? On the one hand, avoiding the usage of ‘capitalism’ enables environmentalism to get beyond sticky debates in Marxian theory, including arguments that Marxism is an all–‐totalizing and/or Eurocentric theory. Yet, as many historical materialists and materialist feminist scholars have pointed out, labor time domination, money, capital accumulation, financialization, and a general valuation of the ‘economy’ over nature as the natural conditions of production are some of the main contributors of contemporary human destruction of the environment, including climate change.1 How does the epistemological move toward the naming of the anthropocene highlight or erase analyses of these underlying structural logics? In sum, why anthropocene? Why not just capitalist patriarchy?
Breakout Session 4
Panel Chair: Jamie “Skye” Bianco
◊ Paige Sarlin, “Vulnerable Accumulation: Accounting for Occupy Sandy”
This paper explores the interrelation of material and affective factors in the development of political experiments aimed at social transformation and posits the concept of vulnerable accumulation as a heuristic description of the logic that shapes the activity of “commoning” associated with movements such as Occupy Sandy. A variant of what Karl Marx calls “primitive accumulation,” vulnerable accumulation can be seen as a symptom of and response to the structural condition referred to as precarity, but it also points to historical continuities that challenge the recent deployment of that term. As a concept, it is meant to call attention to the significance of social reproduction as a site of “resistance” to capitalist accumulation and the maintenance of structural inequality. Looking at the mobilization of Occupy activists in the face of Hurricane Sandy, this paper considers what Sherry Wolf called “Do It Yourself Disaster Relief” as a form of vulnerable accumulation. In doing so, this paper argues that these experiments are more than just complicated examples of pre-figurative politics, they point to the tensions between self-understanding, organization, and broader political, economic, and ecological forces.
◊ Rebekah Sheldon, “Scavenge”
This presentation explores the conjoined effects of neoliberal disinvestment and ecological crisis on our imaginings of the future through a comparative analysis of Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2012 YA novel Ship Breaker and Behn Zeitlan’s 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild. I argue that the increasingly widespread experience of precarity has collapsed the zoe/bios distinction whose maintenance Giorgio Agamben sees as crucial to the logic of biopolitics. No longer steward over the Earth, children are depicted as the first generation of a humbled humanity, merely one species among many. The scavenger children index a burgeoning awareness of what comes after we exhaust the future: the endgame of biopolitical governance as a worldwide necropolitics.
◊ Katherine Behar, “E-Waste”
When the promise of machinic labor is framed by the labor capacity of women’s bodies –in reproductive, affective, manual, and cognitive labor – parallels between human and nonhuman servitude and resistance become visible, and solidarity becomes possible. Small sculptures collected under the working title, E-waste, imagine a fossilized afterlife of cheap USB gadgets, still functioning, but partially encrusted in rock, fossilized wood, brick and concrete. These works are not dystopic. Rather, these clusters and clumps confirm how affinities flow between objects and environment. A hospitable (if uninhabitable) built environment can extend an end to endless work, when it swarms and secures the bodies of orphaned devices.
Panel Chair: Elizabeth Johnson
◊ Jill Schneiderman, “The Anthropocene: A Feminist Geostorian’s Perspective”
If human and other beings are to endure on planet Eaarth (McKibben), the new epoch of the Anthropocene must also mark the beginning of a new geologic era, the Ecozoic, defined by historian of religion Thomas Berry, as a time when humans and other components of the planet interact in a mutually enhancing manner. To this end, feminism in the Anthropocene must awaken to contemplative practices that have previously been dismissed as spiritual and essentializing. At the same time, the moniker “Anthropocene” must be more than the name of a new geological epoch coined by scientists to acknowledge the fact that human beings since the Industrial Revolution have come to act as geologic agents at non-geologic time scales (Crutzen, Zalasiewicz). Feminist epistemologies and histories of science (e.g. Harding, Schiebinger) should inform recognition of the Anthropocene as a concept that bypasses the nature/culture binary. That is, phenomena such as soil erosion, atmospheric geochemical change, and sea-level rise, formerly perceived as merely physical, are as socially-constructed as racial and gender inequities, other social relations, and scientific facts.
By developing the ability to pay close attention to what is happening in the Anthropocene—the present time, contemplative practices undertaken with feminist awareness might enable action for social justice and a flourishing Ecozoic Eaarth community. Also, feminist understanding of cycles of violence gleaned during the Holocene, could bring awareness to and help us break other cyclical forms of violence that are slow and structural and playing out in the nonhuman organic and inorganic world space/time of the Anthropocene.
◊ Susanne Bauer, “Soviet cyborgs, noosphere, and the naturecultures of biomedical extremes”
Recent conceptualizations of the anthropocene emphasize the anthropogenic influence of an otherwise allegedly intact nature. Feminist technoscience studies have long challenged the great divides of nature and culture. Drawing on feminist science studies concepts of the “cyborg” and “naturecultures” (Haraway 1985/1989/2003), this paper turns to examine the case of Soviet technosciences. Adaptable humans and hybrid ecologies as they populate Soviet sciences complicate the great divides as well as the anthropocene concept as such. The proposed talk will survey some of the experimental sites of Soviet technoscience and focus in particular on “biomedical extremes”. In the Soviet context, this strand of research comprised nuclear exposures, extreme cold and high altitude, as well as technoscientific explorations of the kosmos and emerging research areas such as space genetics (kosmicheskaia genetika). The line of research conducted under the label “Biomedextrem” covered sites ranging from nuclear installations, extreme conditions in the Far North to spaceship ecology and is a case in point to investigate cyborg environments the ways in which time and space are worked into these naturecultures. Interestingly, Soviet science featured its own anticipations of the anthropocene, for instance in the concept of the “noosphere”, introduced by Vernadsky about a century ago. Vernadsky’s 1920s publications in French have been referenced by those scholars who coined and introduced the term anthropocene into 21st century geosciences (Steffen, Crutzen et al. 2011). The proposed paper will explore Soviet cyborg ecologies against the backdrop of ideas about the noosphere in order to historicize 21st century proclamations of the anthropocene. Inspired by feminist technoscience studies to historicize and decenter Euro-American accounts, this project examines hybrid ecologies not just as imaginaries, but closely attends to their materiality.
◊ Lynne Huffer, “Foucault’s Fossils: The Return to Nature and Life Itself in Anthropocene Feminism”
This paper brings a Foucauldian ethical lens to the renaturalizing move in contemporary feminist philosophy. With the increasing likelihood of mass extinction and the disappearance of life in our anthropogenic age, the feminist return to nature over the past two decades has shifted the center of feminist inquiry away from the social constructivism of the second half of the 20th century. If humans now act as a geological force in ways that are indifferent to social agency, social constructivist concerns about subjectivity and epistemology begin to lose their pull. Consequently, a growing body of renaturalizing feminist work takes as its project the articulation of what Elizabeth Grosz calls a “new metaphysics” of life itself.
What happens when we bring a genealogical lens to this metaphysical conception of life itself in anthropocene feminism? My paper argues that Foucault’s genealogical approach to the contingency of life itself allows us to rethink the ahistoricism of renaturalizing feminisms in generative ways. Foucault’s archival method enjoins us to rethink our own anthropogenic age by engaging the historicity of matter from the past. Importantly for the anthropocene and the prospect of mass extinction, the nonhuman historicity of nature and life itself emerges in Foucault’s figure of the fossil in The Order of Things. Rereading the fossil record as a nonhuman archival matter that tracks the possibility of catastrophic change, I offer the fossil as a way to challenge the ahistoricism of the feminist return to nature and life itself. As the concept of the anthropocene makes alarmingly clear, the stakes of that return are not metaphysical but acutely historical.
Panel Chair: Jennifer Johung
◊ Lisa Bloom, “Witnessing Climate Change: Oil, Geopolitics and Landscapes of Invisibility: Ursula Biemann’s Deep Weather (2012) and Brenda Longfellow’s Dead Ducks (2012)”
The paper examines aspects of feminist and environmentalist art and film in relation to new scholarship of the polar regions, bringing together issues routinely kept apart in climate change debates such as connecting gender to nationalism, capitalism, postcolonialism and what Ursula Heise calls “eco-cosmopolitanism.” Drawing on the work of Swiss artist, Ursula Biemann, and Canadian filmmaker, Brenda Longfellow, this presentation examines the ways contemporary feminist artists and filmmakers have reinvented documentary practices in their representations of climate change and the way their works connect viewers to the lived experiences of humans and nonhumans to this pending environmental crisis. The paper analyzes how both develop a unique feminist aesthetic language to link their concern with the anthropocene to to the very concrete realms of the fossil fuel industry, capitalist development, and political notions of territory in the Canadian Tar Sands. I analyze how Biemann and Longfellow use montage, the layering of images and text (Biemann), animation (Longfellow), and sound – voices, music, and environmental- to tell the story of humans, nonhumans and places that is simultaneously local and global, personal and political. Both artists develop new practices of seeing climate change in these works that take into account what Ursula Heise calls in her book Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global a form of “eco-cosmopolitanism” which is “an attempt to envision individuals and groups as part of planetary “imagined communities” of both human and nonhuman kind.”
Please view Ursula Biemann’s Weather Reports (2013) prior to this paper presentation at https://vimeo.com/61162928 (password: Cairo2012)
◊ Elena Glasberg, “Roni Horn’s Icelandic Geontology”
How do the experimental geographies of environmental art offer a renewed sense of terrain as material as opposed to encoded or interpretable within a geopolitical system of management? Instead of thinking of Iceland at the crossroads of a process of already-known development this project is constructed in order to be able to consider to what extent can or should Iceland seek to enter the globalized struggle for resources and for standards of living dependent on fossil fuels or other extractive resourcing. Although a small and even insignificant nation compared to global hot spots, a study of Iceland as an object, not as an already-entrained concept called nation, offers to open up as yet un-thought connections between media, art practices, markets, land, literacies, oceanic flows, inorganic elements, populations/ genetics, and the modes of collating and disaggregating them.
Roni Horn’s installation in Stykkishólmur, Vatnasafn, Library of Water (2009), challenges humanist cognition in its exchange of water for words; in bringing the glaciers to the people it offers a geontology of Iceland, or “the water in us” that flows through human and non-human objects and networks. Building on the non-bio micro and planetary scales of ecology in Horn’s reworking of Verne’s uncanny indexing in Journey to the Center of the Earth of Iceland’s Snæfellsjökull crater, geontology involutes surface/depth models of earth as well as the linguistic/material framings of matter to forge a new materialist uptake of human-centered 1970s Earth Art.
◊ Judit Hersko, “Ode to the Sea Butterfly”
This performance lecture is based on my collaboration with scientists and my experience in Antarctica as a recipient of the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Grant. It examines polar exploration and science from the perspective of a fictitious, unknown, female explorer, Anna Schwartz, who travels to Antarctica with the 1939 Byrd Antarctic expedition. I insert Anna’s character into real events thereby reflecting on the absence of women from the history of exploration and science until the late 1960s. This layered story, that addresses the history of Cartesian science as well as current climate change data in the context of present economic and political realities, explores a feminist aesthetic of loss in the era of the anthropocene. It also suggests alternative, feminist approaches to studying and relating to the nonhuman world.
Anna Schwartz is a photographer and a naturalist obsessed with the microscopic and transparent planktonic snail the Limacina helicina and its predator the Clione antarctica. Her intimate relationship with these tiny creatures is in contrast to the heroic notions of exploration of her day, while ironically, her focus on the minute and invisible layers of the Antarctic landscape is more relevant to current research in polar science. These planktonic snails, studied by my collaborator, biological oceanographer Dr. Victoria Fabry, function as canaries in the coalmine when it comes to ocean acidification – one of the most insidious aspects of anthropogenic climate change that is rapidly altering the food chain and ecology of the oceans.
Panel Chair: Stephanie Youngblood
◊ Marius Henderson, “Poems as Little Monsters: Exploring Materializations of (Poetic) Language in the Anthropocene”
In my paper I would like to trace genealogical ties from the poetic and artistic works of early, proto-anthropocene-feminist modernists, like Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Meret Oppenheim, to contemporary English and/or German speaking and writing (experimental) poets, like Bhanu Kapil, Ann Cotten, Monika Rinck, and Lisa Robertson.
I will let these writers’ works interact not only with each other but also with theoretical concepts of contemporary feminist theorists, like Bracha L. Ettinger’s notions of “co-poiesis” and the “matrixial” or Elisabeth von Samsonow’s concept of the “Anti-Elektra.”
What the poetic works by the authors mentioned above and these theoretical concepts have in common is that they address issues, which are relatable to a discussion of how the anthropocene may be envisioned from a transnational feminist point of view. Through an immersive engagement with these theoretical and artistic works my paper will primarily focus on the question how (poetic, “feminine”) language may be conceptualized in the anthropocene. I will show how the above-mentioned works evoke language not primarily as an epitome of (human) culture but as always already engrained in post- and non-human ecologies. In these works, language is often treated as textual-corporeal non-biodegradable, indigestible “stuff.”
I will try to elucidate the many “sticky” resonances and historical and transnational continuities between the textual-corporeal emissions of these works, which are enmeshed in challenging formal and thematic experiments on the fringes of hegemonic material-semiotic orders. The language(s) in these textual-corporeal artifacts become(s) engrained in multiple assemblages between human and non-human, organic and inorganic forces and materials, which may render alternative social-ecological imaginaries possible.
◊ Laurel Peacock, “Full Fathom Five”: Feminist Poetics Burying Humanism at Sea
At least since Sylvia Plath transformed Shakespeare’s imagery of the father’s apotheosis in the ocean in 1958’s “Full Fathom Five,” a “sea change” took place in feminist poetry that has bearing on a problem with the notion of the Anthropocene. Namely, seeing our epoch as saturated with the human runs the risk of according institutions of humanism and patriarchy too much apparent power over the natural world. I argue that, rather than solidifying the power of these institutions, feminist poetry can model a world in which we might rethink our relations. Plath evokes a seascape that both is and is not the father, whose “form suffers / Some strange injury” upon close inspection, turning back into the wild sea. The omnipresent father figure’s “dangers are many,” yet his scattering amongst the elements attenuates his power in a way that makes it possible for the speaker to inhabit the same environment, if only by breathing water. My paper articulates a poetics of indeterminacy pertaining to the human in the seascape. More recently, in Brenda Hillman’s poem “Pacific Ocean,” a similarly “strange injury” happens to the form of the human, as we are given to see its co-constitution with the environment. In this epoch (which Hillman calls the “something-ocene”), human and ocean are intermixed, and oceanic feeling becomes a way to understand the interface of human with seascape. In this poem, Hillman implores, “Sylvia / don’t drown”, asking for the continued breath of feminist consciousness in the troubled seas of our epoch.
◊ Ada Smailbegovic, “Cloud Writing: Describing Soft Architectures of Change in the Anthropocene”
In her book of poetry The Weather the Canadian poet Lisa Robertson explores the vapor poetics of clouds by drawing on the writing of the nineteenth-century meteorologist Luke Howard, who devised a taxonomy of clouds that is responsive to their changeable qualities. Both Howard and Robertson are concerned with the question of how to construct descriptions of change or with how taxonomic or poetic modes of description can register the differentiated temporalities of changing phenomena. My paper positions this as one of the central questions that can help elaborate the variegated human and nonhuman temporalities that have been opened up by the category of the anthropocene. My paper argues that Howard’s methodology of “cloud writing,” which allows him to record diachronic transformations of clouds, offers a way to conceptualize soft taxonomies of change in which entities possess both a form of discrete differentiation and the capacity for transformation. This tension between the temporalities of change and the question of discreetness and differentiation has been one of the key points of discussion in feminist materialisms, informing the work of figures such as Karen Barad or Elizabeth Grosz. In Becoming Undone, Elizabeth Grosz, for instance, shifts away from the category of “new materialism,” with its emphasis on matter as a substance that composes discrete, stable entities, and turns, instead, towards “temporal and durational entwinements” of matter and life which guide the processes of differentiation and becoming as a way of examining “how change occurs, that is, how difference elaborates itself” (3, 1). In simultaneously taking up the epistemologies of meteorology and feminist philosophy, Robertson’s poetics of elaboration offers a site for inquiry into the significance of the questions of change and differentiation for characterizing the temporalities and durations of the anthropocene.