Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Catastrophe Presentation (Rice Cultures of Energy Seminar)

This transcript (by me) is incomplete, since I arrived a couple of minutes late (broken foot!). 


Alexander Regier: 

Sloterdijk’s imperative that you must change your life might be different in the aesthetic (probably less acceptable in other spheres)

easy to find out grand narratives of catastrophe

instead take inspiration from Raymond Williams’s Keywords and make a glossary
not comprehensive, necessarily
rather the entries reflect the engagement with each of the participants in a number of ways
to offer to the group as a whole something that will remain outside of the discussion itself

>> online glossary
Wiki page; develop over time, be part of the future of the center

this is also an invitation to participate in this glossary

we decided to focus on three aspects: perspective, sentiment, form
Jeff, Caroline and Derek
>> discussion within the group

Jeff Kripal: 
fifteen minutes, three sections: aesthetics of environmental crisis; personal example; how this works out in religion, Jeff’s discipline
it turns out WE came up with the distinction between disaster and catastrophe

Caroline: Cornell is now taking on catastrophe and it is spreading like a virus

Jeff: values and concerns of our intellectual community versus the agricultural community in Nebraska where Jeff comes from

inside versus outside

a disaster is a crisis one is observing from the outside, a catastrophe is from the inside
why is this literary: the reader is on the outside but needs to enter imaginatively
but also literally outside

August 2005: Katrina devastated Northern Gulf Coast

me: catastrophe just IS an aesthetic thing

Jeff woke up during Rita and watched on TV. I got the family up and put people in a minivan. There were millions of cars on the highway at 3 in the morning. Katrina had happened and people were fleeing with all their vehicles and most of their belongings
we got about 10 miles after four hours...I saw the ABC news helicopter above us

you are no longer watching something on the news, you ARE the news

why is that important to Nebraska and religion?

the study of religion works the same way: the inside versus the outside, insider/outsider problem
the key is to move back and forth but at the end of the day the outsider perspective is privileged

myth: a story that grounds a particular worldview (in religious studies terms)
if you’re inside a myth it’s absolutely true, if outside it’s a myth
beliefs are always unbelievable to those who don’t inhabit the worldview
Stranger than Fiction (Will Farrell): a character in a novel, and you should figure out what kind of genre it is
every one of us is living a kind of novel right now

eschatology: the end of the world
why my family is not concerned: they are operating out of a Christian eschatology; these are always disasters, never catastrophes
things end badly but only for the infidels
things always end well for the believers
this is your deep operating system? then environmental crisis doesn’t look so bad because you don’t really believe in it
the believers in these eschatological narratives never end up bad
you just can’t get a hearing
the Left Behind series: rapture << nuclear holocaust
rubbernecking horror

Caroline
What is the phrase that captures not only an important element for my own discipline but also that captures the exchanges of our group? 
feeling catastrophic
how does one go from being an observer to being an insider?
a key sign of a heart attack
one sure sign is a feeling of vague and impending doom (and facial expression!)
that’s also the feeling
urgent, irresistible: shaping debates
imminence and irreversibility
very much a literary tool; part of a genealogy
sensibility arose just before the Anthropocene!
>> evoked by artists
historical precedent to this feeling in literature
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin--forced people to “feel right”
sentimental fiction: “what can you do?” you can “feel right”--this is your responsibility

>> profoundly impactful
not just the facts but forcing the reader to go from being an observer to being a participant
disinterested passer-by to someone who is imagining themselves as such an individual

(me; danger of Walrus and Carpenter and then of cynicism, the meta danger)


Derek on form
tuning aesthetic form
making us feel we are inside
in all the texts I’ve surveyed setting and scale keep coming up
setting has to change in a radical way for the cat. to be immersive and convincing
more than just the backdrop; one of the most explicitly ecological aspects
feedback loop: cultural response is always intensifying the cat. 
stable >> transformed setting
setting as an active force
Poe 1839 “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmian”
Jefferies 1885 After London
Wells War of the Worlds 1898
setting emphasized over and above other features of the text
scale problem: helping to clarify the issue if you emphasize setting
geographical conditions have to be violated in cat. texts
twisted form: one finds oneself all of a sudden; every action is contaminated in advance by the twisted possibility space
how can you tell you’re inside or outside?
the strong desire to be either definitely
broader problem of spatial imagination

(we need a logic in which it’s okay to be a little bit inside and a little bit outside)

scale, the other formal feature
Nixon: formalist analysis to help apprehend threats imaginatively that are imperceptible to the senses (remote, vast, minute, huge time span exceeding observer’s life)
new focus on how different media represent different scales in the perceptual mesocosm

Vertiginous shifts
deep time <> narrative time
Total Recall (90s version): reactor that restores atmosphere of Mars, ends up outside; 30 seconds later there is an atmos!

>> estrange us from familiar phenomenological scale

avoid scalar realism (one scale is the most real or most important)

Derek reads the first paragraph of War of the Worlds

Discussion

Caroline: sentiment doesn’t always succeed; it can work...but...
affective rubbernecking

me: Walrus and Carpenter syndrome, sadism

Alexander: in retrospect we know the outcome--thus the Stowe seems appealing; with 20-20 hindsight
is that the same problem, the Nebraska problem?

Kripal: this is empowering, this idea of authorship
“okay it’s warming up but it’s not us”
“nobody wrote that book, god wrote it and we have to live in it”

Q: recursivity the possibility of the aesthetic not just as reporting but as feedback

Q: what would it take to have a Vietnam-scale protest

Q: Tufts, there are visible effects. 

Q: you need something personal

me: can you be a little bit inside and a little bit outside at the same time? (logic)

Q: the war analogy is difficult here, because my highschool friends would be killed

Jack: that’s the point of what the aesthetic offers, of being inside and outside at the same time
>> suspension of disbelief >> mental possibility of being more disposed to change
aesthetic compression can force you into liminal conditions

Joe: aesthetic as magic bullet sounds suspicious
it’s been going on for hundreds of years but it’s obviously not working! 

Jack: this is not a panacea but one vehicle among many
reason is impotent in some way with families in Nebraska
being a Kantian, his arguments about reason versus imagination

Q: sentiment has already been a motivator for action

Q: I’m not quite arguing for personalization; it’s that vague feeling of impending doom (but this feeling of doom can’t take you up)
weird feelings
dealing with bits and pieces of it that include you (like the XL pipe is coming through your yard)

Caroline: in the face of that feeling people are scripting things in which they are watching themselves. They are scripting a story in which they are as you say a heroic figure; yet they are understanding themselves at a distance
>> how does one occupy the threshold

Alexander: so then what do we want the aesthetic to do
“If only we had enough novels everything would be okay”
if you want the aesthetic to do a particular kind of job, you will end up being disappointed

reading The Road won’t make you function better 
it’s not that you will become a Green Party member
...the claim that this is what will happen is a drastic misunderstanding of the aesthetic

Q: you need some politics

Jack: the problem of blurring

Alexander: sometimes we want discussions of the aesthetic; sometimes we want to find what is specific about catastrophe

>> then when we use examples, or in the way we play out the argument, catastrophe gets equated with ecological catastrophe right now

catastrophe in all sorts of forms; that’s a distinction that one needs to make

technical talk or empirical talk

Derek: you want to save aesthetics when politics is mentioned
but the darker side is also important: the aesthetic as a panacea or Matrix type of a thing

Q: more and more people do think climate change is happening. One problem is: 
Stowe allowed people to feel right because they were outside
we need incident after incident, novel after novel because we are all implicated in it

just because people might not take up arms it doesn’t mean you can give up the discussion

Jeff: the point of my presentation was for me the aesthetics helps a lot because it explains why people are so unconcerned
people are operating with a DIFFERENT aesthetic << religious beliefs and individualism

they don’t see how they are implicated in this

Tim: cynicism
Q: we do have some input here, not to be cynical and to enforce that

Q: people who know it’s a catastrophe (for others) but not for them

Tim: ...can you have irony without cynical distance; these people exempt themselves from what they are seeing

Alexander: the disaster scale is just very very big--so this is just disaster-vision

Q: What makes people stand up

the glossary will be on the cultures of energy website

this cluster will have a continuing life




1 comment:

Marina said...

Hi Tim - where will this be posted? Very interested, even from the cryptically intriguing shorthand.

MZ