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"Agency in the Anthropocene": Towards Day 25 (Thurs, Dec. 1)

Anne Dalke's picture

Princess is hosting us in the Library of the Enid Cook Center
(turn left when you enter)
welcome to the residence hall and cultural center named for the
first African American woman to graduate from Bryn Mawr College;
very important site to end our class discussions about "shifting identities,
altering environments"!

I. coursekeeping

*11-2 this Friday, in the CC: interactive exhibits about energy use on campus, created by students in the ES Senior Conference

* your last weekly paper of the semester is due this Sunday @ midnight

* we will spend all of next Tuesday and Thursday

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
you and your partner learned in-and-about your "expanded contact zone";
Jody and I will organize these/post the schedule by late Monday afternoon

* you should 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

@ 7:30 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 MIDNIGHT on Fri, Dec. 9: fourteenth short posting,
reflecting on the implications of your project: how might y
ou 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 your contact zone?

* on Tuesday, discussing LeGuin's short story, we ended by
naming our dual (dueling?) fears of isolation/separation--
"the obscure fear, called panic, which many of us feel when alone in wilderness," OTOH--
and, OTOH, our total dependence on plants for respiration and food,
our really having no boundaries that separate/secure us from the rest of the world.
both seemed very frightening (and connected?). we also saw the fear that the scientists
in LeGuin's short story brought to the new world: a fear of the 'other,' observing the world,
separate from it (as science has traditionally been practiced), a fear that nearly destroyed them.

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

You did a nice job of listing 3 main ideas you saw Latour offering;
take a moment to tell your neighbor the most interesting thing you learned from this text:
a new idea (or one you'd thought of, now strengthened or questioned?)
go 'round and share....all clear....?

then you each posed
one question Latour's essay raised for you
(go around, read aloud, then discuss....)

How can we as a human not fall into the habit of separating ourselves from nature? 

...what will happen next? What will we, as humans and students, do after this ESEM class has ended to raise awareness on global warming? And how will we convince the rest of society that these issues must be solved as soon as possible? 

: Now I am wondering...whether it will be possible to distribute this agency enough to end the dangerous dichotomy between society and nature. Since humans are so egocentric and desire power/control/domination, will our society even permit this redistribution of activity?

The question that I have is about the concept of a first new earth, the second new earth and so forth. What does this mean?

Calliope: can we as students help raise awareness? How can we take responsibility and protect the earth from the damage we are doing? And I am also curious about how the earth will get her revenge in the future if we don’t change our habits now.

I am curious about how Latour's argument compares to the idea we discussed in class that it doesn't make sense to conceive of humans as separate from the environment. By giving the earth agency is Latour separating it from humans? At the same time making it "subjective" once again connects it to us as he argues that neither the earth nor humans have a separate autonomy.

What struck me the most was the idea of how with storytelling and history we have to choose "between matter and materiality".  How can we appeal to an audience who feels they can dismiss their responsiblity when "the maximum permissible CO2 limit wsa crossed just before 1990," which was almost 30 years ago?

It does not really sound as if Latour is offering advice to fix this so given all the points he has made what can be suggested to fix this issue?

What does the last sentence in this essay mean? "The oled metaphor of a Political Body might take on a new lease on life, if it is another name for living with Gaia."

Iridium: In the first sentence of second paragraph on page 13, the author challenged the idea of a "'material world' in which the agency of all the entities making up the world has been made to vanish." I still think there is a material world. Only upon the basis of material carrier can the agency issued. (I will go back to read the passage later to figure out whether I miss some essential context.)



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..."