Rethinking the Anthropocene as Carnivalocene

David Chandler

Writing in the mid-1960s, Russian literary theorist and philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin famously understood medieval carnival to reveal the truth of life’s rebelliousness against the authoritarian rule of official culture. Carnival was important to Bakhtin as it expressed an immanent liveliness that exceeded the regulatory controls of church and state and disrupted the binary hierarchies of power, distinguishing the governing and the governed, high culture from the low, and those with power from those without. Carnival was a world of freedom from external constraint: a world of immanent becoming, rather than transcendental laws: ‘Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it… While carnival lasts there is no life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its own laws, that is the laws of its own freedom.’ (Bakhtin, 2009: 7)

In most treatments in the discipline of International Relations, the Anthropocene and the ethos of carnival could not be further apart. The Anthropocene, formally a concept derived from geological debate over the level of human impact upon the earth’s geomorphology, is often treated merely in terms of the potential security implications of climate change and global warming. Nothing to probe here, just another set of problems which require the assembling of expertise, resolving some organisation issues, perhaps some lobbying and resource redistribution, and then we can be on our way. There seems to be something a little soulless about this rationalist problem-solving approach, whether it’s cast in terms of addressing a planetary crisis, a global problem or even a plain old-fashioned international one (see Burke et al, 2016). It often seems that we are missing out on the disruptive commotions occurring across other disciplines and, even more so, on their expressive eruptions of joy and celebration. It is these more affective aspects of the contemporary condition that we often fail to grapple with and that I wish to foreground in this short piece.

Because we are so used to seeing problems as governmental opportunities – enabling the advocacy of new legislative, economic or military regimes, new modalities of international cooperation or empowering global activist networks – it can be difficult to take the Anthropocene seriously. When contemporary theorists talk about living after ‘the end of the world’ (Morton, 2013) we assume they are making dire predictions about the future or perhaps speaking metaphorically. Everything looks very much as it did before: states; governments; international summits; the whole works. Those able to remember the 1990s went through a similar experience, when people talked about globalisation and how the compression of time and space ‘changes everything’ (see, Rosenberg, 2000). Pretty much everything looked the same but at the same time it wasn’t. Our easy distinctions and separations – modernist binaries – were called into question – not all of them, just the more obvious state-like ones, sovereignty/ anarchy, war/ peace, combatant/ non-combatant, protectorate/ democracy.

In the Anthropocene everything still pretty much looks the same, there are still states, global hierarchies, inequalities and exclusions, poverty, wars, conflicts, exploitations and oppressions; everything one would need to keep IR theory in business. But the changes that happened beneath the surface – the non-visible ones, that were first spotted lurking in discourses of globalisation – have quickened their pace. Hardly any binaries or distinctions are now left standing. First they came for the state-based binaries and now they have come for the rest: culture/ nature, subject/ object, human/ non-human, living/ non-living, figure/ ground, thought/ matter. These are the binaries held to be at the heart of modern or Enlightenment thought, said to have separated the human as subject from the world as object. As long as modernity seemed to be achieving its promises of progress, its epistemological and ontological assumptions went largely unchallenged. Today, the liberal world of the imagined ‘social contract’ and escape from ‘the state of nature’ seems dangerously elitist and stupidly hubristic (Serres, 1995; Latour, 2018). If only the Anthropocene could be put back in the box of problems to be solved, like climate change and global warming. Unfortunately it cannot be. The Anthropocene, like globalisation before it, is not a problem we are facing: it is a condition we are in.

To understand that condition perhaps it would be better to think of the Anthropocene more in terms of the Carnivalocene. The Anthropocene is a time of high emotional intensity, an affective release of the energies and frustrations pent up during the slow implosion of modernity. In the Anthropocene, the world is turned upside down, as all traditional authorities and hierarchies are challenged: the Anthropocene as carnival. Just as with carnival, the Anthropocene is a deeply intense, material experience: a wild romp of the grotesque and the transgressive, emphasising our shared character of Earthly being. It is about the body not the mind. Life is at the centre of the Carnivalocene: not the regulated, ritualised life of separated entities, fixed essences and linear causal chains, but the free-flowing, unregulated and ungovernable life of flux, change and unpredictability. The Carnivalocene cannot be governed, transgression is the norm; life is lively and here to party and to disrupt.

In the Carnivalocene, life comes to the fore in ways, which, we are regularly told, displace figure and ground. The environment/ nature/ the geological forces of the Earth, become the central actors, no longer the background or stage for a merely human drama (Serres, 1995; Latour, 2018; Clark and Yusoff, 2017). Ghosts and monsters become our grotesque guides in the Arts of Living on a Dying Planet (Tsing et al, 2017). Ghosts and monsters both point us towards life’s entanglements: enmeshed in disruptive processes of becoming, they are the return of our uncared for side effects and externalities. The Carnivalocene threatens each and every achievement of modernity with the return of the repressed and the excluded in the form of blowbacks and feedbacks impossible to predict or to control. In carnival, co-species contaminations, symbiogenetic interminglings and cross-species entanglements come to the forefront. Every attempt to regulate, control and order the world seems to make the problems worse as unintended consequences, unforeseen side-effects, unaccounted for externalities and extended networks of interaction and interdependence can make even small interventions catalyse tipping points towards catastrophic new phase transitions. New antibiotic medications breed new drug-resistant bacteria, new and higher sea walls lead to higher levels of flood devastation, new technologies and data processing capacities bring new levels of error and infringements of privacy, new ways of securing reveal new threats and create new insecurities.

In carnival, the lowly and forgotten are put on the same plane as the high and the mighty. We can read from Michael Marder how ‘plants quietly subvert classical philosophical hierarchies and afford us a glimpse into a lived (and growing) destruction of Western metaphysics’ (2013: 53). Anna Tsing tells us how fungal spores fill our stratosphere, challenge species boundaries and turn our ideas of sexual reproduction upside down (2015). María Puig de la Bellacasa investigates the lively power of soil webs of ‘multilateral relational arrangement in which food, energy, and waste circulate in nonreciprocal exchanges’ of care circulating through more than human relations (2017: 192). Natasha Myers explains how molecular life is lively in a perspective that is neither vitalist nor mechanical and how cells and molecules are ‘active participants in the agencements that shape their growth, development, and reproduction’ (2015: 235). Stefanie Fishel writes biopolitics in reverse in the understanding that microbial life can help us rethink the political ‘by affirming life as vital and relational rather than as a purely mechanical reaction against that which is Other’ (2017: 108). The list goes on.

Understanding the Anthropocene in terms of the Carnivalocene might enable IR to think the contemporary condition in more affective and experimental ways. However, it is important to bear in mind that while the Carnivalocene may, like Bakhtin’s carnival, turn the world ‘inside out’ (2009: 11), the old order, which was merely suspended, does not look set to return, and certainly not in a rejuvenated manner. If carnival does become a condition of stasis rather than one of release, rupture and return (as in the classical adaptive cycle of resilience theory, Wakefield, 2018) then the Carnivalocene may yet turn out to be a dark time for those looking for resources for disciplinary renewal. The carnival of the Carnivalocene is far from the family-friendly, corporate-sponsored, community-policed fun day out type of carnival, where everyone goes happily back to work the day after.

Original article published here: https://www.e-ir.info/2019/04/11/rethinking-the-anthropocene-as-carnivalocene/

Personal website: http://www.davidchandler.org/ 

References

Bakhtin, M. 2009. Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Burke, A., Fishel, S., Mitchell, A., Dalby, S. and Levine, D. J. 2016. ‘Planet Politics: A Manifesto from the End of IR’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies 44(3): 499–523.

Clark, N. and Yusoff, K. 2017. ‘Geosocial Formations and the Anthropocene’, Theory, Culture and Society 34(2–3): 3–23.

Fishel, S. R. 2017. The Microbial State: Global Thriving and the Body Politic. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Latour, B. 2018. Down to Earth: Politics in a New Climatic Regime. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Marder, M. 2013. Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia University Press.

Morton, T. 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Myers, N. 2015. Rendering Life Molecular: Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter. Durham: Duke University Press.

Puig de la Bellacasa, M. 2017. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Rosenberg, J. 2000. The Follies of Globalisation Theory: Polemical Essays. London; Verso.

Serres, M. 1995. The Natural Contract. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Tsing, A. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tsing, A., Swanson, H., Gan, E. and Bubandt, N. (eds) 2017. Arts of Living on a Dying Planet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Wakefield, S. (2018) ‘Inhabiting the Anthropocene back loop’, Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses 6(2): 77-94

Anthropocene and Negative Anthropology

Hannes Bajohr

Despite all proclamations to the contrary, we still don’t live in the Anthropocene. Instead of hailing this new era, and to the annoyance of many, in July 2018, the International Commission on Stratigraphyintroduced a more detailed subdivision of the Holocene, our current epoch, which the Anthropocene was either to replace or succeed. Besides the Greenlandian and Northgrippian periods, there is also a name for the last 4250 years: Welcome, you now live in the Meghalayan! Geologists continue to discuss the possibility of introducing the Anthropocene, but it remains unclear when or what they will decide. Even in bureaucracy, geology is used to thinking in expansive time scales. It took the discipline 102 years to formalize the Holocene.

In contrast to the natural sciences, the question of official adoption plays virtually no role in the humanities, which have taken up the concept of the Anthropocene with relish. Its attraction lies in its omnicompetent radiance: Not only a geochronological coinage, it implies an ontology, a theory of history, and an anthropology – categories thus within the purview of the humanities – while its normative consequences remain vague. It may, as Dipesh Chakrabarty already showed ten years ago, explode the classic separation between the history of nature and that of mankind. What it doesn’t do is clearly provide a new guiding scheme. This has led to the paradoxical situation that both posthumanists and neohumanists have claimed the Anthropocene, but draw from it radically different conclusions. The former see it as a further empowerment of the human, the latter as its continued decentering. The concept of the Anthropocene, then, is the site of an interpretive struggle about the discursive return of “man.”

Him Again: The Return of “Man” in the Anthropocene

For the longest time, few could have imagined that talk of “man,” of all things, would return. But that was the very stunt pulled by the Anthropocene, the very name of which relies on a hypostasized “man,” the “Anthropos,” as an agent on a planetary scale. Inadvertently, it challenged the antihumanism dominant in the humanities for the last forty years or so. The famous final sentence in Michel Foucault’s Order of Things promised that “man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.” Even though Foucault spoke only of “man” as the epistemic central figure of the modern sciences humaines, the disappearing human face became an emblem for something like an antihumanist consensus, to which belong, among many others, Althusser, Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, but also Heidegger, Adorno, Kittler, and Luhmann.

These otherwise highly different thinkers were united in their critique of a humanism which, in Kate Soper’s now-classic definition, “appeals (positively) to the notion of a core humanity or common essential features in terms of which human beings can be defined and understood.” This aversion to an essential core humanity has been synthesized since the mid-nineties in posthumanism, which brings together feminist, postcolonial and process-ontological arguments. “Universal ‘Man,’” as Rosi Braidotti summarizes the posthumanist position, is unmasked to be “masculine, white, urbanized, speaking a standard language, heterosexually inscribed in a reproductive unit and a full citizen of a recognized polity.”

In view of this consensus it is not surprising that the Anthropocene was brought into the discourse of the humanities from the outside,through the natural sciences. Natural scientists reveal themselves to be untroubled by antihumanist scruples as soon as they turn philosopher and begin to draw normative and ethical conclusions. In the majority of cases, these result in one or the other version of a model of the human as Prometheus, as homo faber. If the Anthropocene is the epoch in which “the human” itself has become a force of nature, then it only marks the full realization of what it has always implicitly been. This diagnosis is not necessarily pessimistic, for the possibility of self-extinction does not have to indicate catastrophe, but can be further evidence of humanity’s dominance. The practical consequence of these theories is the model of stewardship: their power nominates humans as guardians of the earth.

Paul Crutzen, who together with Eugene Stoermer popularized the concept of the Anthropocene, speaks of an “Age of Man” that should be embraced: “we should shift our mission from crusade to management, so we can steer nature’s course symbiotically instead of enslaving the formerly natural world.” Steering is certainly not the same as symbiosis; what he calls for, rather, is technical ingenuity as a way out of the climate crisis. This is also the demand of the ecomodernists,who imagine a “good anthropocene” and see in it an opportunity for “man” to continue the transformation of the earth in a self-determined way and to his own advantage. One of its representatives, the geologist Erle C. Ellis, therefore speaks of a “second Copernican revolution,” which makes “man” and earth the center of the universe yet again.

Geographers Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin invoke the same image. For them, too, the Anthropocene is nothing less than the reversal of that modern decentering of “man.” Where Copernicus and Darwin (Freud is not mentioned) robbed humans of their elevated status in nature, “Adopting the Anthropocene may reverse this trend by asserting that humans are not passive observers of Earth’s functioning.” In this view, as Bruno Latour notes in his Gaia Lectures, the narrative of human self-assertion in modernity, which Hans Blumenberg developed in his Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1966), has, in the Anthropocene, become a scientifically measurable reality. New is the demand not to pursue self-assertion at the expense of self-preservation, but “the human” denotes much the same: the Anthropos is still a Prometheus.

“We’re fucked”: Neohumanist and Posthumanist Responses

Motivated by the popularization of the natural sciences, the humanities’ hand is forced when it comes to the discursive return of “man,” regardless of whether they are posthumanist or neohumanist in character. For the neohumanists, who believe their time has come, the Anthropocene is the final proof of humanity’s special place in the cosmos. Another strand of neohumanism, more philosophical than technocratic, argues against the ecomodernists’ optimism, anddemands meditating on hopelessness as an ethical attitude. In Roy Scranton’s handy formula: “we’re fucked.” If a reversal of climate change is no longer possible, our job is “learning to die in the Anthropocene.” Since Socrates, Cicero and Montaigne, this has been an arch-philosophical task, and the importance of the humanities becomes salient again as “we will need a way of thinking our collective existence. We need a vision of who ‘we’ are. We need a new humanism.”

With less pathos, the Australian philosopher Clive Hamilton similarly pleads for a “new anthropocentrism,” but he does so with a twist borrowed from Kant: Hamilton need no longer merely posit that “man” occupies a special position, as this has now been factually proven through climate change, from which follows humanity’s ethical responsibility for the earth as a whole. Because this responsibility has so far been rejected, we are simply not anthropocentric enough for Hamilton. The Anthropocene, in other words, becomes a Kantian ‘sign of history’ that gives meaning to the existence of mankind. Hamilton calls this “a kind of negative of teleological anthropocentrism.” By virtue of his destructive power, “man” now has the destiny to save the earth for which he is responsible – but rather by abstinence and the renunciation of consumption than by artificial atmospheric change.

In the camp formerly attached to antihumanism, on the other hand, the concept of the Anthropocene “has arisen at a most inconvenient moment,” as philosopher Timothy Morton admits. With anthropogenic climate change, however, the reality of “man” has become undeniable: It is “caused by humans – not jellyfish, not dolphins, not coral.” And with the rising sea levels, Foucault’s image of the face in the sand has changed its meaning, and now points at the imminent extinction of the species: “the human returns at a far deeper geological level than mere sand.”The cultural theorist Claire Colebrook finds in humanity’s malignant power undeniable evidence of its reality: “the notion that there is no such thing as the human […] must give way to a sense of the human as defined by destructive impact. […] One effect of the Anthropocene has been a new form of difference: it now makes sense to talk of humans as such.” And in this sense, even the avowed posthumanist Rosi Braidotti admits that the Anthropocene represents a unity “of the negative kind, as a shared form of vulnerability.”

For Colebrook, Braidotti and Morton, however, this does not imply the necessity of a new anthropocentrism, as Hamilton and Scranton would have it, even if they all strive to take the concept of “the human” seriously again. This is especially true of Morton, who aims at redefining “humankind” as an ontologically reductive quantity: If all entities are always references to and composites of countless others (as flat ontologies usually claim), then the entity “humankind” is in reality smaller than every single real subject that appears in it. Extending it to animals and things is then a simple task. But why an element of this “humankind” should denote something substantially different than the concept of “person,” as it has long been used in animal ethics, is just as unclear as the practical consequences: Morton, too, continues to place his hopes in collective action – and he addresses his appeal not to jellyfish, corals or dolphins, but humans.

Species Being: The Human as Collective, Reductive, and Scalar Quantity

Posthumanist responses to the Anthropocene are often characterized by this difficulty in coordinating ontological and ethical issues. The best example is Donna Haraway, who pursues Morton’s goals through a reverse strategy. She rejects the concept of the Anthropocene as too anthropocentric. Her counter-suggestion, the “Chthulucene,” does not designate an epoch or humanly segmented time, but rather the “tentacular” all-connectedness of living beings. Yet by dissolving people into unbounded assemblages while opposing the pessimism of the “we’re fucked” anthropocenists, Haraway begins to question whether the perpetrators of climate change can be determined at all: Because humans have always existed in interdependent relationships with other living beings, the Anthropocene is no longer a “human species act.” Questions of responsibility and agency, as with Morton, are in danger of disappearing from view.

Marxists, too, have put forward a critique of the concept of anthropocene, albeit less with an ontological rather than a socio-economic thrust. Historian Andreas Malm and ecologist Alf Hornborg, for example, query the concept of “man” as a collective singular: It implies an undifferentiated humanity, obscuring the unequally distributed responsibility between the global North and South for the ecopathologies of capitalism. Further, they argue, the assumption of a process attributed to the human species denaturalizes climate change by recognizing it as human-made, while at the same time renaturalizing it, since it appears as a result of inherent human characteristics rather than as an effect of economic processes.

The dissolution of philosophical pseudo-problems and -entities – here: “man” – has an honorable tradition; in methodological terms, however, one must ask whether the reduction of the term is not accompanied by a reduction in explanatory power. What phenomena does the anthropocene describe that can’t be explained by capitalist dynamics alone? Dipesh Chakrabarty has argued against Malm and Hornborg that the anthropocene can’t be reduced to capitalism because it concerns the “boundary conditions that human or all other life on earth needs.” In the long run, all people are affected by this without exception, whether poor or rich, which is why “a policy of even more far-reaching solidarity is needed than mere solidarity with the poor” – solidarity, in other words, among people as such.

For Chakrabarty, the return of the human is thus attached to a humanity that must be undifferentiated because it faces questions of bare life. The lessons of postcolonialism and Marxist critique should not be forgotten, but must be relegated to their respective explanatory planes. He places three conceptions of the human in parallel, without wanting to reduce them onto one another: the human as the subject of enlightenment, i.e. as the same rights bearer everywhere, who must still be able to be invoked in the human rights discourse; the human as a postcolonial subject that is differentiated along the axes of class, race, gender, ability, etc.; and the human as the subject of the anthropocene, as that collective quantity that only acquires its meaning qua collectivity.

This distinction emphasizes the status of the Anthropos as a scalar concept: It reveals emergent qualities that go beyond the mere summation of all individual humans on earth, and beyond the constitutional conditions of the human, which are described by any “philosophical anthropology.” In fact, Chakrabarty argues, one cannot perceive oneself as a member of the species. This identification of the Anthropos with the species is, of course, tentative for him: on the one hand, it is desirable to keep a continuity with the descriptive work of the natural sciences, but the term “species” also has the function of marking a desideratum of future orientation narratives. In a passage reminiscent of Benjamin, Chakrabarty writes: “‘Species’ is perhaps the placeholder name for an emerging, new universal history of mankind that flashes at the moment of the threat posed by climate change.”

In the Balance: The Negative Anthropology of the Anthropocene

The debate about the Anthropos in the Anthropocene is a complex one. But what it shows is that “man,” at least as a discursive object, has again taken center stage in the humanities at the very moment when his final farewell seemed certain. While the tradition of antihumanism continues, its reluctant apostates, such as Morton or Colebrook, indicate that one can neither live completely with nor completely without “the human.” But this precarious return does not automatically mean a restitution of substantial anthropologies, as if the antihumanist critique had never existed. The world-builder homo faber, which the “good anthropocene” celebrates, and the strict distinction between humans and nature – here posthumanism is right – shouldn’t be resurrected. But in talking about the Anthropocene, it is also impossible to avoid referring to humans. Be it as an addressee of ethical demands, political actor, cause of climate change and responsibility for reversing it, the human remains an operative, but precarious term.

The most intelligent attempts at negotiating antihumanist and neohumanist positions often employ a negativistic rhetoric. Rather than declaring new positives, the negative modality offers alternatives to relying on concepts of the human or struggling to overcome them. They know what it is not, or what it shouldn’t be, and often this becomes the most pertinent and precise thing they can say about it. When Chakrabarty calls for a “negative universal history” of the human species, he finds an echo in Hamilton’s conception of a “negative of teleological anthropocentrism.” And Colebrook’s talk of the human “defined by destructive impact” takes up Braidotti’s concession that the Anthropocene helped to birth a “negatively indexed new idea of ‘the human’ as an endangered species.”

The evocation of the negative modality refers, on the one hand, to a kind of minimal anthropology that describes the human by its demonstrated destructive power on a planetary scale. At the same time, it refuses any final determination, lest the unproblematic core humanity of the homo faber returns as an equally essentialist homo delens. And both factors – the determination through negation and the negation of determination – show an astonishing similarity to a discourse from twentieth century German philosophy I would like to call negative anthropology.

Negative anthropology, as I understand it, describes an approach that eschews any definition of an “essence of man,” but still insists on making the human the main focus of its attention. This distinguishes negative anthropology from posthumanism. For where the latter wants to banish the human completely, negative anthropology still holds on to it as a variable that is impossible to solve, but which can’t be canceled out from the equation, either.

Such a negative anthropology has a certain tradition in German post-war philosophy. Two examples: Ulrich Sonnemann, a peripheral Frankfurt School thinker, wrote in his 1969 book Negative Anthropologie that the task of such a philosophy is to disclose the open potential of the human being “from the negations that refuse and deny it.”Formulated as a utopian project against all totalizing theories of the human, Sonnemann is the model case for the negation of determination. Determination through negation, the other pole of negative anthropology, can for instance be found in the work of the philosopher Günther Anders, who with this term describes “humanity” as awareness of the nuclear bomb; this idea could easily be transferred to some of today’s Anthropocenists: “We are now one humanity not because of a common natural origin, but because of a common future without a future, because of the unnatural end that is approaching us together.”

Negative anthropology is the surprising convergence point of a geological proposition and the scruples of a specific tradition of the humanities. It denotes the movement of a decentering that turns into a recentering again – but unlike Ellis or Lewis/Maslin discuss it in the image of the Copernican Revolution. It rather evokes what Hans Blumenberg described in his Genesis of the Copernican World as “geotropic astronautics”: For him, the photograph of the blue marble as an icon of the space age becomes a symbol of what Montaigne had called “a secret turning back onto ourselves,” for in the face of the vast expanses of space all astronautic efforts refer us back to earth as the life-worldly ground of our existence. The philosopher Hermann Lübbe called this a “post-Copernican counterrevolution,” which restores to the earth the central position that Copernicus had taken from it, but without cosmologically returning to the Middle Ages. Similarly, the return of “the human” currently underway is a turning back without returning. It seems as if negative anthropology is a good description for our geotropic astronautics in the Anthropocene.

Hannes Bajohr is a research fellow at the Leibniz Center of Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin. This text is an abridged version of an essay that appeared in German in the journal Merkur 73, no. 5 (2019): 63–74; it was translated by the author and was first published on Public Seminar.

Politicizing the Anthropo(Obs)cene

Erik Swyngedouw

 

The ‘Anthropocene’ is now commonly mobilized by geologists, Earth Systems scientists, and scholars from the humanities and social sciences as the name to denote the new geological era during which humans have arguably acquired planetary geo-physical agency. While recognizing a wide-ranging and often contentious debate (see e.g. Castree, 2014a,b,c; Hamilton, et al., 2015), I argue that the Anthropocene is a deeply depoliticizing notion that off-stages political possibilities. This off-staging unfolds through the creation of  ‘AnthropoScenes’, the mise-en-scene of a particular set of narratives that are by no means homogeneous, but which broadly share the effect of silencing certain voices and forms of acting (Bonneuil and Fressoz, 2016). The notion of the Anthropo(Obs)cene then, is a tactic to both attest to and undermine the performativity of the depoliticizing stories of ‘the Anthropocene’ (see Swyngedouw and Ernstson, 2018).

Earth Scientists, who coined the term ‘Anthropocene’, now overwhelmingly understand the earth as a complex, non-linear, and indeterminate system with multiple feedback loops and heterogeneous dynamics in which (some) human activities are an integral parts of these terraforming processes. The capitalist forms of combined and uneven physico-geo-social transformation are now generally recognized as key drivers of anthropogenic climate change and other deep-time socio-environmental transformations that gave the Anthropocene its name (Moore, 2016). Both human and non-human futures are irrevocably bound up in this intimate and intensifying metabolic — but highly contentious — symbiosis. The configuration of this relationship has now been elevated to the dignity of global public concern as deteriorating socio-ecological conditions might jeopardize the continuation of civilization as we know it.

Indeed, a global intellectual and professional technocracy has spurred a frantic search for a ‘smart’, ‘sustainable’, ‘resilient’, and/or ‘adaptive’ socio-ecological management and seeks out the socio-ecological qualities of eco-development, retrofitting, inclusive governance, the making of new inter-species eco-topes, geo-engineering, and technologically innovative – but fundamentally market-conforming – eco-design in the making of a ‘good’ Anthropocene. These techno-managerial dispositifs that search for eco-prophylactic remedies for the predicament we are in have entered the standard vocabulary of both governmental and private actors are presumably capable of saving both city and planet, while assuring that civilization-as we-know-it can continue for a little longer. Under the banner of radical techno-managerial restructuring, the focus is now squarely on how to ‘change’ so that nothing really has to change!

 

A more-than-human ontology?

The proliferation of prophylactic socio-technical assemblages to make our socio-ecological metabolism ‘sustainable’ and ‘resilient’ coincided with the emergence of a radical ontological shift articulated around non-linearity, complexity, contingency, ‘risk’ and ‘uncertainty’. In addition, theorists from both the social sciences and the humanities mobilized these new earthly cosmologies to propose new materialist perspectives and more-than-human ontologies that point towards grasping earthly matters in more symmetrical human/non-human, if not post-human, constellations. This symmetrical relational ontology, variously referred to as more-than-human, post-human, or object-oriented ontology, fuels the possibility of formulating a new cosmology, a new and more symmetrical ordering of socio-natural relations (see, for example, Coole, et al., 2010; Morton, 2013; Harman, 2016). Nonetheless and despite its radical presumptions, we contend that these cosmologies also open up the specter, albeit by no means necessarily so, for deepening particular capitalist forms of human-nonhuman entanglements and can be corralled to sustain the possibility for a hyper-accelerationist eco-modernist vision and practice in which science, design, geo-engineering, terraforming technologies, and big capital join to save both earth and earthlings (Neyrat, 2016). In the process, the matter of ecology is fundamentally de-politicized.

The geo-sciences and, in particular, Earth System experts discern indeed in the advent of the Anthropocene the possibility, if not necessity, for a careful ‘adaptive’ and ‘resilient’ massaging of the totality of the Earth System. The recognition of the earth as an intricately intertwined, but indeterminate, socio-natural constellation opens up the possibility that the earth, with loving supervision, intelligent crafting, reflexive techno-natural nurturing and ethical manicuring, be terraformed in manners that may sustain deepening the eco-modernizing and eco-capitalist process. As Bruce Braun insisted in his dissection of the historiographies of the new materialisms, the parallel between non-deterministic geo-science, ‘resilience’ studies, and the varieties of new materialisms associated with a more-then-human ontology within neoliberalism are not difficult to discern. Indeed, in this staging of the ‘good’ Anthropocene, the new symmetrical relational ontology can function as a philosophical quilt for sustaining and advocating accelerationist hyper-modernizing manifestos (Neyrat, 2014). To save the world and ourselves, we need not less capitalism, but a deeper, a more intense and radically reflexive form, one that works to terraform earth in a mutually benign and ethically caring co-constitution. Covering up the multiple contradictions of capitalist eco-modernization, the apparently revolutionary new material ontologies offer new storylines, new symbolizations of the earth’s past and future that can be corralled to help perform the ideological groundwork required. In the next section, we shall show how this perspective enters the field of politics, the governing of things and people in common in troublingly de-politicizing manners.

 

The De-politicized Politics of the Anthropocene as Immuno-biopolitical Fantasy

As suggested above, some Anthroposcenic narratives provide for an apparently immunological prophylactic against the threat of a hitherto presumably irredeemably external and revengeful nature. In what ways can the mainstreaming of critical and radical new ontologies whose explicit objective was and is the unsettling of modernist cosmologies be understood? Roberto Esposito’s analysis of bio-political governmentality, enhanced by Fréderic Neyrat’s psychoanalytical interpretation, may begin to shed some light on this (Esposito, 2008; 2011; Neyrat, 2010). Esposito’s main claim expands on Michel Foucault’s notion of biopolitical governmentality as the quintessential form of modern liberal state governance by demonstrating how this biopolitical frame today is increasingly sutured by an immunological drive, a mission to seal off objects of government (the population) from possibly harmful intruders and recalcitrant or destabilizing outsiders that threaten the bio-happiness, if not sheer survival, of the population, and guarantees that life can continue to be lived. Immuno-biopolitics are clearly at work, for example, in hegemonic Western practices around immigration, health, or international terrorism. Is it not also the case that many of the sustainability, ‘resilience’, ‘smart’ technologies and adaptive eco-managerial policies and practices are precisely aimed at re-enforcing the immunological prowess of the immune system of the body politic against recalcitrant, if not threatening, outsiders (like CO2, waste, bacteria, refugees, viruses, Jihadi’s, ozone, financial crises, and the like) so that life as we know it can continue?

Alain Brossat (2003) calls this a fantasy of immunitary democracy. This is a dangerous fantasy, as the immunitary logic entails nothing else than the destruction of community, of politics. Necessarily, this immunitary logic creates the continuous production of the exposed and the exiled (the non-immunized – the dying ones) as the flipside of the immunized body, and leads to de-politicization. As Roberto Esposito argues further, the immunological biopolitical dispositif turns indeed into a thanatopolitics, of who should live or die; it turns into making life and making die (Mbembe, 2003). In the excessive acting of the immunological drive, the dispositif turns against that what it should protect. It becomes self-destructive in a process of auto-immunization. The construction of eco-bubbles and ‘sustainable’ enclaves for the privileged produces simultaneously the unprotected exiles and deepening socio-ecological destruction elsewhere. This is eco-gentrification elevated to new heights. In other words, the mechanisms that permit to make and secure life in some places end up threatening its very continuation elsewhere, at all geographical scales. This infernal dialectic, Neyrat argues, is predicated upon re-doubling the fantasy of absolute immunization, that is the fantasy that despite the fact we (the immunized) know very well we shall die, we act and organize things as if life will go on forever (Neyrat and Johnson, 2014). The symmetrical human-non-human ontology on which the Anthropo(Obs)cene rests, promises to cut through the unbearable deadlock between immuno- and thanato-politics without really having to alter the trajectory of socio-ecological change. It is the process that makes sure that we can go on living without staring the Real of eventual (ex-)termination in the eye. It is the hysterical position that guarantees that death remains obscure and distant, an obscene impossibility.

 

Re-centering the political

While the controversies over the Anthropocene are mobilized in all manner of ways, suggesting indeed a politicization of the stuff of things, the ‘political’ cannot and should not be grounded on the eventual truth of the Anthropocene. There is no code, injunction, ontology in the Anthropocenic narratives that can or should found a new political or politicizing ecology. The ultimate de-politicizing gesture resides precisely in letting the naming of a geo-social epoch and a contingent ‘truth’ of nature decide our politics, thereby disavowing that the ‘our’ or ‘the human’ does not exist. It is yet again a failing attempt to found a new politics on a contested truth of nature. What is required, is to assume fully the trauma that the decision is ours and ours only to make.

It is indeed surprising that post-foundational political thought is rarely articulated with more-than-human ontologies of the stuff of matter. Indeed, the post-foundational intellectual landscape that brought into conversation complexity theory and the new materialisms, and claims to open up radical new possibilities is symptomatically silent of the post-foundational political thought that emerged alongside and in a comparable context. Jacques Rancière, for example, understands the political as the interruptive staging of equality by the ‘part of no-part’ (Rancière 1998). The political appears when those that are not counted within the count of the situation (the excluded, the mute, the exposed, and exiled) make themselves heard and seen – that is, perceptible and countable – in staging equality. For these thinkers, the political emerges symptomatically as an immanent practice of appearance – as Hannah Arendt would put it, or an event in Alain Badiou’s terminology (Badiou, 2007), that interrupts a given relational configuration on constellation. This performative perspective of politics needs no grounding in any current or historical order or logic, based on say nature, the non-human, ecology, race, class, abilities, or gender. The political is a public aesthetic affair understood as the ability to disrupt, disturb, and reconfigure what is perceptible, sensible, and countable (Rancière 2004).

Indeed, a wide range of political theorists, despite their often radically opposing views, share this search for renewing political thought in a post-foundational ontological landscape characterized by inconsistency, radical heterogeneity and incalculable immanence. Alain Badiou, for example, insists that the attempts to re-found political philosophically is in fact an integral part of what he diagnoses as a pervasive processes of depoliticization. For him, ‘ecology is the new opium of the masses’ (Badiou 2007). A re-emergence of the political, he insists, resides in fidelity, manifested in militant acting, to egalitarian political events that might open a political truth procedure. Turning a politically progressive event into a political truth procedure requires the emergence of political subjects that maintain a fidelity to the inaugural egalitarian event, aspire to its generalization and coming into being through sustained actions and militant organization. It is a fidelity to the practical possibility of the coming community, but without ultimate ontological guarantee in history, theory, technology, nature, ecology, the Party, or the State. Yet it is one that slowly and relentlessly carves out a new socio-physical and socio-ecological reality, often in the face of the most formidable repression and violence. This requires sustained action, painstaking organization, and the lengthy process of radical egalitarian transformation. Above all, it necessitates embracing the trauma of freedom and abandoning the fear of failing as failing we shall; more-than-human unpredictable and uncaring behavior guarantees that.

Originally published in  AntipodeEditorial Collective (eds.) (2019).  Keywords in Radical Geography: Antipode at 50, J.Wiley, London, pp. 253-258

New Book: Urban Political Ecology in the Anthropo-obscene: Interruptions and Possibilities

 

References

Badiou A. (2007) “Live Badiou – Interview with Alain Badiou, Paris 2007”, in O. Feltman (Ed.) Alain Badiou – Live Theory, London: Continuum

Badiou A. (2007) “Live Badiou – Interview with Alain Badiou, Paris 2007”, in O. Feltman (Ed.) Alain Badiou – Live Theory, London: Continuum

Badiou A. (2007) Being and Event, London: Bloomsbury Academic

Bonneuil, C. and Fressoz, J.B. (2016) The Shock of the Anthropocene. London: Verso.

Braun, B. (2015) “New Materialisms and Neoliberal Natures,” Antipode 47(1): 1-14

Brossat A. (2003) La Démocratie Immunitaire, Paris: La Dispute

Castree, N. (2014a) The Anthropocene and geography I: The back story. Geography Compass 8: 436–49.

Castree, N. (2014b) Geography and the anthropocene II: Current contributions. Geography Compass 8: 450–63.

Castree, N. (2014c) The Anthropocene and geography III: Future directions. Geography Compass 8: 464–78.

Coole, D. H. and Frost, S. (eds) (2010) New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Crutzen, P.(2002) Geology of mankind. Nature 415: 23.

Esposito R. (2008) Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Esposito R. (2011) Immunitas, Cambridge: Polity Press

Hamilton, C., Bonneuil, C., and Gemenne, F. (eds) (2015) The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis. New York: London.

Harman, G. (2016) Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Mbembe, A. (2003) “Necropolitics”. Public Culture 15(1): 11–40.

Moore, J. W. (ed) (2016) Anthropocene or Capitalocene: Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism. Oakland: PM Press.

Neyrat F. (2010), “The Birth of Immunopolitics,” Parrhesia 10:31-38.

Neyrat F. and Johnson E. (2014) “The Political Unconscious of the Anthropocene: A Conversation with Frédéric Neyrat” in Society and Space Open Site ((https://societyandspace.com/material/interviews/neyrat-by-johnson/ – accessed 30/05/16).

Neyrat F., (2014) “Critique du Géo-constructivisme Anthropocène & Géo-Ingénierie,” Multitudes, 56. (http://www.multitudes.net/critique-du-geo-constructivisme-anthropocene-geo-ingenierie/ – accessed 01/07/16).

Neyrat F. (2016) La Part Inconstructible de la Terre, Paris: Editions du Seuil,

Rancière J. (1998) Dissensus. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press

Rancière J. (2004),The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, London: Continuum

Swyngedouw E. and Ernstson H. (2018)  “Interrupting the Anthropo-obScene: Immuno-biopolitics and Depoliticising Ontologies in the Anthropocene”, Theory, Culture, Society https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276418757314

 

The Revolutionary Disaster /-/ The Disaster of the Revolution…

___________________________________
ANDREW CULP

*Our world is awash with disaster. The cheapest explanation would be to dismiss it all as wish fulfillment. That account takes the apocalypse to be the playing out of impossible fantasies. On the one hand, it delivers the satisfaction of revenge, entitlement, or wickedness without forcing one to face the consequences of it actually happening. Or on the other, it offers the powerless an imaginary situation in which all their problems have disappeared. But neither are the real disaster, only a dissimulation. The real disaster has already happened, is happening now, and will happen in the future.

*The disaster is an ongoing presence without being present. History in turn seals it with a beginning and end. For this reason, there are histories of the disaster but they remain outside it. Disastrous waves continue to strike the shore long after the ships of the transatlantic slave trade ceased setting sail. Too impatient to wait, history gets used to holding Black non/being captive, confining it to the past in an ongoing effort to commit it to irrelevance. Against this, Christina Sharpe challenges thought to stay in the wake. Wake work does not futilely attempt recovery. It interrupts the idea that even the most restrained disaster is complete.

*Laruelle: philosophy proves its inadequacy through its obsession with the World and Man. With the World, philosophy concerns itself with a bad faith inquiry into “what everything turns around” (Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy, 5). In Man, philosophy poses its answer to all problems: Man as subject of salvation. Both result in an idealist anthropology designed only to evade thought.

*No one thing is the disaster. Nor are the things that make up the disaster analogous. It is not possible to wrap slavery, colonialism, the Holocaust, capitalism, and climate change into just one thought. Nonetheless, the disaster demands we think.

*The disaster is the outside. It is not a constituent outside concealed by the frame, like a gust that blows in through an open window. It is not the revenge of a repressed as if there was something unthought, ignored, or otherwise unaccounted for thing asserting its nagging presence. At one time the outside was seen as the necessity of contingency, which is to say, those elements that reveal how every system is incomplete – but that made it seem too much like a space of possibility. It has a much more passive character; “where being lacks without giving place to non-being” (Writing the Disaster, 18).

*.*

*What to do with disaster when it is what makes this world intolerable – disaster is capitalist strategy – but it also offers an opportunity to break from such a world?

*The disaster, coming from the Italian disastro, literally means the tearing asunder of the stars. It suggests something different than waywardness. It is not the temporary disorientation of lost compass points, forgotten as quickly as it passes and, subsequently, a course correction is called. Nor is it simply the opposite of the sky, as if a fall from the sky inevitably leads to a tumble down onto terra firma. Without the framing gods who hold up the sky, the division between day and night cease to exist, from which the chthonic gods derive their power. Rather, it is the utter suspension of the whole cosmos the only type of revolution worthy of the name. Neither an evolution nor a seizure of power. It is a structural subversion that dismantles the whole system. It offers no “instead,” no something-else to be put in its place.

*The revolution of the disaster, the disaster of the revolution. It would be easy for disaster to be treated as just another word for tragedy. Following from an error at which Nietzsche sneered – to mistake something for its origins – the temptation is to take the writing of the disaster as a metaphor expanding from the death camps. But what if the disaster is always more abstract than it is concrete? The totalizing impulse of the disaster then tends toward the rupture of all relations, a disorientation so absolute that it suspends the world, and with it, the good and the bad.

*The end of the world stands at the threshold of indiscernibility between utopia and dystopia. “Communism: that which excludes (and is itself excluded from) any already constituted community,” Blanchot writes, “between the liberal capitalist world, our world, and the present of the exigency of Communism (a present without presence), there is merely the hyphenation of a disaster, of a change that is astral [un changement d’astre]” (Blanchot, “Disorderly Words,” 203- 204).

*The utopian disaster of communism and the horrifying disaster of slavery overlap in their mutual destitution – a point where relations are not affirmed or negated but simply break apart. As a break, could they be the same type of disaster?

*.*

*The disaster is silent. It has nothing to say in the face of interrogation, it cannot account for itself. There are not legitimate and illegitimate varieties of the disaster. This is because the disaster is not any particular affirmation that can be refuted, as if its legitimacy could be revoked in a way that would make it cease to exist. It is the event in which even negation itself is suspended, the moment when all relations collapse.

*To think the disaster does not mean laying the foundation for a new form of thought. It provides no new methods, theories, or knowledge. Like Nietzsche, it takes thinking to be a form of suffering tied to the great human capacity for forgetting (“Have you suffered for knowledge’s sake?” he asks). The point being that not only the most athletic (or destitute) are fit to breathe the rarefied air of knowledge. Rather, to think the disaster means to apprehend our own ignorance. As a force, it demands that we forget what has henceforth been called thinking, a result of the realization that no amount of thought was able to prevent the disaster.

*Asking the disaster to teach us anything would already be asking too much. As Isabelle Stengers notes, the disaster intrudes with indifference. This is not cowardly or narcissistic indifference. Quite the opposite. It is the indifference of something too powerful and too otherworldly to even know to care. She speaks of Gaia, a god so primordial as to remain unmoved by the fate of humans. Perhaps even a name as transcendent as Gaia grants the disaster a presence still too familiar. No amount of knowledge about the disaster can conjure its power, its forces too radically inhuman.

*.*

*Even if the disaster produces subjects, there is no subject of the disaster. It cannot be issued from a subject’s capacity. No doubt there are politicians of the disaster who loudly declare their support or opposition. But unlike the law, the disaster is neither the product of authority nor the result of assent. The disaster carries subjects within it, just as clouds carry rain.

*Paraphrasing Tiqqun, it would be easy to assume that the disaster confronts us like a subject. But what if we encounter it like an environment that is alien to us? It does not face us, even if we try to imagine it as speaking in a foreign tongue. Rather, its alchemy of forces cannot be directly experienced. Its mode of hostility is not antagonism but alienation, acting as a solvent that makes us strangers to ourselves and others, preventing subjects from forming solidarities.

*If the disaster acts with the force of nonrelation, then its arrival renders meaningless the politics of being for or against. It is an event that could care less about who brought it about. No amount of ‘justice’ can reverse it. Its reach so wide-ranging, its consequences so complete, it is written in the language of death. For those who re-emerge on the other side are never the same…

http://www.andrewculp.org/

Original article published on the Alienocene: https://alienocene.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/ac-disaster.pdf
_________________________________________________
Maurice Blanchot, “Disorderly Words,” trans. Michael Holland, in The Blanchot Reader (Blackwell, 1995):200-227.
Maurice Blanchot, Writing the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (University of Nebraska Press, 1995).
François Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy, trans. Drew S. Burk and Anthony Paul Smith (Univocal, 2012).
Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke University Press, 2016).
Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, trans. Alexander R Galloway and Jason E Smith (Semiotext(e), 2010).

WELCOME TO THE IDIOCENE

Max Cafard  a.k.a. John Clark

It has been proposed that the present era of life on earth should be called the “Anthropocene” to reflect the human domination of our planet. However, an elegant, scientific-sounding term like “anthropocene” seems like a cop-out, a handy euphemism to hide exactly what kind of domination this is and what it’s doing to the planet. I propose that instead we call it the “Idiocene,” signifiying the “New Era of Idiots.”  “Idiot” comes from the Greek word ἰδιώτης meaning both an incompetent person and a private citizen. “Idiocene” is the one precisely appropriate name for an era that is both suicidally stupid and also ecocidally privatizing.  Would you like a simple definition of the Idiocene? You might remember the old joke about a robber who comes up to somebody on the street, pulls out a gun and says: “Your money or your life!” The victim pauses and then says, “Can I have a moment to think it over?” That moment is the Idiocene.

 

Welcome to the Idiocene

It’s the Obliviocene

It’s the Distractocene

It’s the DontWorryBeHappyocene

It’s the ADHDocene

It’s the SpacedOutocene

It’s the Narcissocene

It’s the WhichWayIsUpocene

It’s the Amneseocene

It’s the NoThereWhenYouGetThereocene

It’s the BlahBlahBlahocene

It’s the Idiocene

 

Welcome to the Idiocene

It’s the Comatosocene

It’s the DruggedOutocene

It’s the Wastedocene

It’s the FiddleWithYourIphoneWhileTheWorldBurnsocene

It’s the Shopoholocene

It’s the SoUpI’mDownocene

It’s the Dopocene

It’s the Undeadocene

It’s the Zonkedocene

It’s the Crunkocene

It’s the Idiocene

 

Welcome to the Idiocene

It’s the Moronocene

It’s the Stupidocene

It’s the SingleDigitIQocene

It’s the Imbecilocene

It’s the Assbackwardsocene

It’s the FoxToldMeIt’sNotTrueocene

It’s the OutToLunchocene

It’s the Nincompoopocene

It’s the Schlemielocene

It’s the EndOfTheworldAsWeKnowItAndIFeelFineocene

It’s the Idiocene

 

Welcome to the Idiocene

It’s the EndOfTheLineocene

It’s the HotelTerminusocene

It’s the Nightmareocene

It’s the ChickensComeHomeToRoostocene

It’s the Saw15ocene

It’s the UpShitCreekoscene

It’s the OMGocene

It’s the Suicidocene

It’s the Collapsocene

It’s the Hoistonourownpetardocene

It’s the Idiocene

 

Welcome to the Idiocene

It’s the HumptyDumptocene

It’s the Jonestownocene

It’s the WalkingOffACliffocene

It’s the SpringBreaksOverY’allocene

It’s the BuiltOnAnIndianBurialGroundocene

It’s the ThatsAllFolksocene

It’s the EndOfSmileyFaceocene

It’s the Extinctocene

It’s the ItStinksocene

It’s the DeadMeatocene

It’s the Idiocene

 

Welcome to the Idiocene

It’s the KickTheBucketocene

It’s the Croakocene

It’s the SwanSongocene

It’s the KillItIfItMovesocene

It’s the LastGaspocene

It’s the GooseIsCookedocene

It’s the ZombiesInTheMallocene

It’s the NightOfTheLivingDeadocene

It’s the EndOfTheRopeocene

It’s the BiteTheDustocene

It’s the Idiocene

 

Welcome to the Idiocene

It’s the NoExitocene

It’s the DeadEndocene

It’s the Wastelandocene

It’s the InTheToiletocene

It’s the Screwedocene

It’s the FuckedUpocene

It’s the Trashedocene

It’s the ShotToHellocene

It’s the DeadDuckocene

It’s the Kaputocene

It’s the Idiocene

 

Welcome to the Idiocene

It’s the CheckOutocene

It’s the ManBearPigWinsocene

It’s the EverythingMageddonocene

It’s the Apocalyptocene

It’s the MadMaxocene

It’s the ShitHitsTheFanocene

It’s the Y2KForRealThisTimeocene

It’s the WeAllGetDarwinAwardsocene

It’s the MoneyTalksNatureWalksocene

It’s the VeryBadSceneocene

It’s the Idiocene

 

Yes, folks. It’s the Idiocene

Welcome to the Idiocene

John Clark <clark@loyno.edu>

http://cas.loyno.edu/philosophy/bios/john-p-clark