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Towards Day 25 (Thurs, 12/4): "Agency in the Anthropocene"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
* Amaka's hoping to get us into Arnecliffe Studio for our last meeting as a small group

* Grace’s Cardboard Boat Workshop—and races on Sunday!

* your last paper of the semester is due this Sunday @ 5 p.m: drawing on our recent readings
(Van Jones, Friere, Bowers, LeGuin, Latour)  to reflect on what constitutes
"ecological intelligence" (or: what intelligences do we need to think ecologically?),
and then to apply this concept to some concrete experiences of your own in BMC classrooms

we'll spend the last 20 minutes of classtime sharing your ideas, helping you brainstorm them further...
want to talk about Latour first (in the hopes that some of you will incorporate him into your essays...)

* we will spend all of next Tuesday, and 1/2 of Thursday's class period,

learning about your contact zone projects: please sign up now with a title and your names;
also indicate whether or not you will need the internet/projection capacities
come prepared to present in Tuesday's class, with 5-7 minutes describing what
your pair learned in-and-about your "expanded contact zone"

* post the information you have to share by 5 p.m. on Monday night,
and plan to engage us with your key ideas on Tuesday/Thursday,
assuming that we have looked over this material

*homework for Monday night is to read through these postings

@ 7 p.m. on Thursday night, we'll meet again,
with dessert, in the English House Lecture Hall, to finish the teaching projects
and talk together about what we learned....

* By 5 p.m. Fri, 12/11: twelfth posting, reflecting on the implications of your project:  how might you carry this forward? With whom else might you share it? What else would you like to know-or-understand about your particular “enlarged contact zone”? Reflect also on what you learned from your peers: how did the range of presentations expand your sense of our contact zone?

* on Tuesday, discussing LeGuin's short story, we ended by naming our dual (dueling?)
fears of isolation/separation, OTOH, and of having no boundaries, OTOH--and both seemed very frightening;
I was suggesting, as the class ended, that the fear the scientists brought to the new world
was that of the 'other,' observing the world, separate from it (as science has traditionally been practiced)

II. today, our textual finale!
Bruno Latour's Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene,
picks up on this idea, explores the impossibility of our "walking away," of separating ourselves from our world
(Naomi Klein's report on the Paris conference on climate change highlights this also).

we'd asked you to list 3 main ideas you see Latour offering, and you did a nice job of this
inseparability, animation, the end of objectivity, the illusion of mastery...]

and then you each posed
one question his essay raises for you:

paddington: I could not catch the point of his argument. What does he want to say? What does he want to agitate?

otter15: A question I have is to what extend do we stop talking about characters and only talk about their common source? 

awkwardturtle: Why gaia? There are many other earth deities in many cultures and traditions. Is it to validate mythology and storytelling alongside and beside "objective" science? 

Calamityschild: How do we reimagine science to become more subjective?

Purple: What is the neccesity of deanimation?

Bothsidesnow: Is it possible to stop placing nature and the physical Earth environment in the past and think of it as currently active? Or are humans doomed to be stuck to their definitions and contexts from the past? 

GraceNL: In the article, what is animation?

Haabibi: What does it mean to withdraw historicity or lose the inner narrativity from the world? How could thinking not in "scientific worldview", but in "material world" affects us to take actions?

How can we simulataneously be part of such a long history, have such an important influence, and yet be so late in realizing what has happened and so utterly impotent in our attempts to fix it?

I don’t understand what we gain from this dichotomy [of past and future] in having these two divided temporal modes….Why do we have to choose?

Aayzah: Latour says that the most crucial task is to "distribute agency as far and in as differential a way as possible", what does he mean by this and how can we achive this?

Alison: What’s Latour’s attitude towards climate change and the reaction of human? He mentioned we cannot see the danger currently, but he also questioned the possibility of actions.

bluish: Is there any way to make this essay clearer? In philosophy, we are asked to use many examples in order to clearly and concisely explain our claim, but Latour's references seem out of reach for me. How can we make philosophical writing accessible? So how do we completely uproot our current scientific practices and perspectives in order to take into consideration the dynamism of Gaia? (I don't even understand my sentence)

A question I have, beyond how to truly understand what is being said by Latour in the article, is about naturalization. How hard will it be to breakfrom the destructive patterns we've created? Will it come, in time, with ecolinguistic alterations and educators dedicated to training youth to stop??

III. (by 12:25) describing your next papers to one another:
what is ecological intelligence? (who is helping you to define it?)
where/how do you see it practiced (or not?)

Anne's reading notes
[a great addition to Kolbert, about “how to tell the geostory,”
placing the current crisis nicely in the history of Galileo in front of the Inquisition…
and makes the whole world full of agency (which science denied in valorizing “objectivity”)]

There is no distant place anymore….gone as well [is] an older notion of objectivity that was unable to take into account the active subject of history…the very notion of objectivity has been totally subverted by the presence of humans in the phenomena to be described…The many important nuances between facts, news, stories, alarms, warmings, norms, and duties are all mixed up….Especially when we are trying to understand how we could shift from economics to ecology…

[Serres:] “The immemorial, fixed Earth, which provided the conditions and foundations of our lives, is moving, the fundamental Earth is trembling”…those new emotions with which the Earth is now agitated in addition to its usual motions….agitated through the highly complex workings of many enmeshed living organisms…Gaia, a very ticklish sort of goddess…now become an agent of history…of our common geostory. The problem for all of do we tell such a story?

…the new Inquisition (now economic rather than religious) is shocked to learn that the Earth has become—has become again!—an active, local, limited, sensitive, fragile, quaking, and easily tickled envelope…After having moved from the closed cosmos to the infinite universe, we have to move back from the infinite universe to the lcosed cosmos—except this time there is no order….literally no ‘cosmos,’ a word that means a handsome and well-composed arrangement. Let’s give this new situation its Greek name, kakosmos!

[Serres:] “as of today, the Earth is quaking anew…it is being transformed by our doing…it depends so much on us that it is shaking…we too are worried by this deviation from expected equilibria. We are disturbing the earthy and making it quake!”…To be a subject is…to share agency with other subjects that have also lost their autonomy….the Earth…cannot be put at a distance…Human action is visible everywhere….

“Trait” is…the word…that Serres uses to designate this trading zone …”the first great scientific system, Newton’s, is linked together by attraction…the same trait, the same notion. The great planetary bodies grasp or comprehend one another and are bound by a law…the spitting image of a contract.., in the primary meaning of a set of cords. The slightest movement of any one planet has immediate effects on all the others…through this set of constraints, the Earth comprehends, in a way, the point of view of the other bodies since it must reverberate with the events of the whole system”…How extraordinary to claim that the best example of a contractual bond is Newton’s law of gravitation!

Through a complete reversal of Western philosophy’s most cherished trope, human societies have resigned themselves to playing the role of the dumb object, while nature has unexpectedly taken on that of the active subject! Such is the frightening meaning of “global warming”: through a surprising inversion of background and foreground, it is human  history that has become frozen and natural  history that is taking on a frenetic pace.

As long as they act, agents have meaning….Storytelling of the many consequences of being thrown in a world that is, by itself, fuly articulated and active….the ‘scientific worldview’ has reversed this order, inventing the idea of a ‘material world’ in which the agency of al the entities making up the world has been made to vanish…The great paradox of the ‘scientific world view’ is to have succeeded in withdrawing historicity from the world. And with it...the inner narrativity that is part and parcel of being…’with the world”…we should abstain from denaimating the agencies that we encounter at each step.

it’s the division between the realm of necessity and the realm of liberty…that has made politics impossible, opening it very early on to its absorption by The Economy…. The point of living in the epoch of the Anthropocene is that all agents share the same shape-changing destiny, a destiny that cannot be followed, documented, told, and represented by using any of the older traits associated with subjectivity or objectivity. Far from trying to “reconcile” or “combine” nature and society, the task, the crucial political task, is on the contrary to distribute  agency as far and in as differentiated a way as possible…

The prefix “geo” in geostory does not stand for the return to nature, but for the return of object and subject back to the ground —the “metamorphic zone”—they had both believed it possible to escape: one by deanimation, the other by overanimation. Only then will the Earthbound have a chance to articulate their speech in a way that will be compatible with the articulation of Gaia.

"Meaning is a property of all agents in as much as they keep having agency; this is true of Kutuzov, of the Mississippi, as well as of the CRF receptor. For all agents, acting means having their existence, their subsistence, come from the future to the present; they act as long as they run the risk of bridging the gap of existence—or else they disappear altogether. In other words, existence and meaning are synonymous. As long as they act, agents have meaning." [very interesting to me revision of existentialism: we don't have to worry about "making" meaning, or "imparting" it--just by being, we are doing that]

from Lawrence Buell, in The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination:
brilliance, panache of Bruno Latour, ethnographer of scientific practices who defines science's authority contextually
his neologism "factish" (collage of "fact" and "fetish"): "types of action that do not fall into the comminatory choice between fact and belief"

from Huggan and Helen Tuffin, in Postcolonial Ecocriticism:
challenging the sort of compartmentalization described in Bruno Latour's vivid formulation of us in Plato's cave,
sending out scientists as our representatives to bring back knowlege of outside world & interpret it for us...

Steve Mentz in Ecocritical Shakespeare compares
complimentary generic differences of Bruno Latour's Politics of Nature
and Timothy Morton's Ecology without Nature:
both skepticial re: progressive narratives re: "nature," but
Latour's comic wit, energy advocates radically pluralistic politics,
while tragic clarity of Morton puts aesthetics @ center of political eco-debates
Latour: ecological crises are "revolts of means": w/ every entity treated as an end,
the sphere of social debate radically expands all public institutions
cf. Morton's tragic refusal of sentimental fantasies of nature
literary representations useful because not real, and self-aware re: own artificiality
familiar narrative habits contain stumbling blocks for env'l thinking

Donna Haraway in When Species Meet speaks of the "taproots" of
"what Bruno Latour calls the Great Divides between what counts as
nature and as society, as nonhuman and as human....these 'others' have
a remarkable capacity to induce panic..."