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Towards Day 25 (Th, 12/3): "Agency in the Anthropocene"

Anne Dalke's picture

Weilla selects classroom as location for Anne's section  (and will  post)

I. coursekeeping
* your last paper 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?)
we'll spend the last 20 minutes of class 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...)

* next week we will begin the final round of writing conferences (go over schedule?):

please come prepared, having reviewed all your work, reflected on what's happened w/ your writing this semester,
and decided (based on that) which paper would be most useful for you to revise for your porfolio

* there is no Monday night posting; you should be working on your report for your 10-week project

* we will spend all day next Tuesday, and as much of Thursday as we need,
giving-and-hearing these reports
everyone should come prepared for Tuesday's class, with 5-7 minutes describing what
your pair learned in-and-about your "expanded contact zone"; if you are planning to use the computer
and/or the internet, I need those materials ahead of time, so we can be sure to access them
(preferable would be for you just to go ahead and put 'em on Serendip, since...

* By 5 p.m. next Thurs, your last short posting is due, archiving this presentation

II. on Tuesday, discussing LeGuin's short story, we ended by naming our duel (dueling?)
fears of isolation, OTOH, and of having no boundaries, OTOH--and both seemed very frightening;
was thinking of this during yesterday's #PhillyDIEin--where both solidarity and separation were called for
(we are all allies/accomplices, and we are positioned differently in this world, some of us more @ risk because of race..)

III. for today, our textual finale!
Bruno Latour's Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene
which is also about the impossibility of our "walking away," of separating ourselves from our world;
you wrote very impressive summaries of his main ideas! so let's get right on to your questions...

How can the "people" of Gaia work collectively if the world as we know it focuses on individuality?
Virushi: What is exactly Gaia. I understand is has to do with The Earth but is with our (humans) relation with the Earth or something else and I’ve got it all wrong
Emily:  Does he believe that there's going to be some apocalypse and there's nothing we can do about it?
Weilla: Is materialism rationalism? Is this just humans' sovereignty?
Nayanthi: First, what does it truly mean to be objective? Is objectivity ever actually achieved, especially when discussing matters pertinent to the world at large? What is the relationship between agency and objectivity? How much must we change in order to respond to Gaia's needs now?
Sydney: I like the idea of the nonautonomous subject. I'm wondering what exactly Latour thinks we should do to be better subjects to the earth or if we can't actually do much at all. 
Rina: I want to discuss more about the consequences of human populations affecting each other and how Latour discusses the Earth's emotional and physical response to human action. Do humans think more baout their relations with each other or does it takes the Earth's visible reponse for us to examine what's going on?
Marjorie:  Is it possible to set up a good relationship with the Earth? And what do we need to do?
Selena: To what extent are we willing to push the Earth beyond its limits of adaptions? 
Allie: Is this Latour calling for political action to aid in addressing the earth's issues, but addressing them through the living needs of the planet, rather than what WE as humans THINK the planet needs?  I'm not sure what it is he is saying. How do we achieve that much sense of our planet without it having a voice of its own? Aren't we as humans, always going to bias it?
Rose: How will the agency of the earth effect human life? Is the earth capable of fighting back?
Haddiyah:What exactly will happen when the Earth reaches it's "breaking point"? And I understand that this is something that we don't want, but should we really be that worried as far as the CO2 level if it has already been crossed before, as well as other thresholds, and yet we are still here today?

III. (by 12:25) describing your next papers to one another...

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 beomce—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 an dparcel of being…’with the world”…we should abstrain from denaimating the agenices 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..."