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Towards Day 18 (Mon, Mar. 31): A Space for Justice (and Desire?)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Welcoming Michael Morella, who’s on a “college road trip”
for the US News & World Report—want to introduce yourself/
tell us anything about your project? You know about us already?
Talked w/ Sophia Abbott @ lunch about our cluster, focus, activities?
Anything we want to be sure Michael knows about 360s,
before we settle in to “do the work”?

II. Coursekeeping: reminder of a couple of adjustments--
We’ll begin discussing Coetzee’s novella on Wednesday
(everyone has gotten hold of it?); read the first ½.
Assigned to deliver a lecture (the sort of “top down” talk
that we’ve read by Timothy Morton, Paula Gunn Allen),
Coetzee crafted instead a fictional account of a prophet
that explores the complexities of taking a stand.

At the center of the fiction is novelist, Elizabeth Costello,
who demands a profound change in the treatment of animals:
our radical sympathy for their "sensation of being."
Along the way, she makes also makes a profound claim for fiction:
it serves an ethical purpose, in extending our sympathies,
opening our hearts, in showing us that
"there are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination."

In our discussion for the next week, we’ll be working both these strands:
the claim for vegetarianism, and the claim for fiction,
Come having thought about them both—and I’ll figure out
some way to get you to think further about the relation between them:
using fiction to expand our sympathy for animals.

Also: because I moved the readings around a bit, I’m shifting
your next paper forward a week,’ til Sunday, April 13.

Questions about any of this?
Postings about the Wissahickon…?
Reports from the interactive workshops @ HC?
Info about next semester's 360°s--tea @ 4 today, etc.

III. So our first topic today is time->

eco-time, enviro-time, apocalyptic time, messianic time, banal time.
Because I was the time-keeper, during the presentations of your eco-artists
last Wednesday, I was thinking a lot about the pressure of time,
trying (not very successfully) to respect the moment—
what was happening in each of your individual presentations,
and also trying to think beyond the moment,
watching how much time was left,
not wanting to let the last ones of you get squeezed.
We were trying to value art, and feeling frustrated that,
in not organizing in a more “timely” matter, we were failing to do this well.
But then I had the bright idea that we could “expand” our sense of time,
and alter our perception of that pretty harried/harassed experience--
and maybe also our sense of ecological time as well.

Last summer, Jody, Sophia A and I attended our first ASLE conference--
for the “Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.”
We presented a very cool panel about the classroom
as an eco-system: complex, networked, unpredictable, porous…
We were also blown away by all that we learned from the other sessions.
One that particularly captured my attention
used the power point slides I asked you to look through for today.
Created by Elizabeth Calloway, a graduate student @ UCSanta Barbara,
the presentation was  entitled “A Space for Justice.”
I can’t do it justice, but here are the relevant bits:

Elizabeth opened with a passage from a keynote speaker @ the conference,
Rob Nixon, who wrote, “Climate change and a host of other
slowly unfolding environmental catastrophes present
formidable representational obstacles that can
hinder our efforts to mobilize and act decisively.”
How to “keep pace intellectually,” another scholar asked, with an event
whose scale, complexity and incalculability” resists representation?
How to represent the unrepresentable?

Noting that the language around climate change
is the language of the apocalypse—of the end of time--
Elizabeth asked what other, less paralyzing means
of representation might be available to us—and she
took as her case study the widely known “hockey stick graphs”--
are they familiar to you all?

These are representations of the annual mean temperatures
 in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1000 years;
they show a pattern that was relatively flat to 1900
(forming the ice hockey stick’s “shaft”),
followed by a sharp increase (corresponding to the "blade”).

Elizabeth pointed out that, because this graph uses chronological time as the x-axis,
what is terrifying about it is what it projects into the future.

When we look @ it (esp. when the sharp uptick in temp is red-highlighted, as it often is),
we see two arguments being made, both with the present as the “hinge”:
one is about sudden increase in temperature,
and the other is about its naturalization: it’s unmediated, unstoppable;
we can only imagine its going forward—and continuing to go up.

But we could read this graph differently (as Elizabeth did):
she pointed out that the range of uncertainty in the graph is literally a gray area,
and that if you let your eye be drawn to the greatest shape,
it actually looks like trees reflected in a lake:

 A Space for Justice (slide 13)

The figures on this graph were generated from data taken from tree and ice cores;
Elizabeth said, quite poetically, that it was both “made of trees and looks like trees.”

She used that different reading to suggest that we might think about the time of climate change differently, not as apocalyptic (= the end time), but as “messianic.”
“Messianic time” is not the end time; it’s oriented toward the time between --
between the announcement of the end, and the end that hasn’t arrived.
It doesn’t assume a messiah; it’s an abstraction of the messianic principle,
which looks at the impulse behind it, the disjuncture between past and future,
the moment of the present that is unhinged from both past and future--
and so (and this is the keynote/the kicker)
challenges us to an ethical relation to both;
it “leaves space open for justice to enter.”

This disjuncture (Elizabeth said) is not neutral but ethical:
it offers the possibility of “an ethical relationship to time,”
because it invites us to intervene in it,
to change the relation between past and future.
(Derrida says that there is always a lag between thought and articulation,
that we never coincide with our own thoughts—
we are always already in messianic time.)

Due to climate inertia, we are into climate warming for 1000s of years:
the future is already w/ us. This graph “tightens the relation of past to future”:
it is so tied to the future that, in a material way, “we are already living it.”

A Space for Justice (cf. slides 12 and 13)

But if we pause here, on the edge of the graph (or in the gray spaces already on it),
we can be in the present, where we might act, to change the next graph,
of the time it will take to equilibrate in response to changed atmospheric conditions.

Messianic time is contracted: it’s the moment of
“palpable potentiality for something to happen”
that is missing both from apocalyptic and banal time,
and it can help us think about how to capture the time scale of different processes.

I’ve asked Jody and David to say what they thought about,
looking @ this pair of images, and now listening to my description of them.
What would an educator of educators say? What might an economist say?
…in response to this re-interpretation of this very well known image?
(I'm inviting difference here--and/but also some interchange among us...)

IV. Our second topic today is networks
(though we probably won’t have “time”—any sort of time! for it!)

I asked you to read two short essays by SueEllen Campbell,
about understanding and writing the environment.

She opens “Magpie” by arguing that “magpies make good role-models for critics, teachers and students: they embody the advantages of being inquisitive, of foraging, of building something new out of apparently unrelated scraps. They may make particularly good models for ecological writers and critics….we too might well thrive on an eclectic and improvisatory appetite. Magpies…ask lot of questions....they forage further....keep their peripheral vision sharp, since it's usually the glint of what I'm not looking for that raises the best questions…I guard my status as amateur and sampler...."

She then performs a wide-ranging reading of Edward Abbey's book, Desert Solitaire, that lands on the realization that "environmental partly by shutting out social and cultural complexities....Is there any room in Abbey's counry for community, for eologicl and human networks, for people living together...a vision not of separation but of connection?"

This call for connections put me in mind of Sophia and Jessica’s saying, on our hike on Friday, that they wanted to “major in 360°s. I mentioned the ”Institute for Intersectionality,” and David asked, “where’s the depth” in intersectionality?  Perhaps it’s in the spectrum, arising from crossing different points of view?

 "Each of our eyes provides a slightly different view of the same scene and together they give us stereoscopic depth perception, enable us better to see three dimensions. Receiving the perspective of two disciplines, like processing signals from both a right and a left eye, results not in shallow vision but in seeing more deeply." (Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach)

In "The Land and Language of Desire,” Campbell goes further in developing this idea of connections. She argues that the “systems of meaning that matter are ecosystems.” Neither language, texts, or human beings, are “coherent and self-contained”; all are parts of a network of relationships, of “intertextual” meaning; we are all “knots in a field of intrinsic relations.”

She ends that essay by describing our sense that we have lost our unity with that world, and our desire to be part of it again. Theory helps us step back from ourselves, to think about desire, while nature writing immerses us in it: “the human is a participant…in the ancient continuum of bears and forests….we are part of texts written by larger and stronger forces…I recognize the shape and force of my own desire to be at home on the earth.”

This put me in mind of Agatha’s question, crossing the bridge, about our seeking a relationship with the earth—when the earth is not seeking a relationship with us? Is it? Not? How?

Might Calloway’s slides go further in this direction?
Not just in seeking to be @ home, but calling up
also, our desire to find a space for justice here…?