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

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sawyer Seminar at U Wisconsin Madison

In mid-October. Here is what I shall do:

Dark Ecology: Philosophy in the Anthropocene
Tim Morton, Rice University

In roughly 1790, humans began to deposit a thin layer of carbon in Earth's crust, as a result of fossil fuel burning. This layer can now be detected deep in the Arctic ice and in large lakes. This marked the beginning of what is now known as the Anthropocene, a distinct moment in which human history intersects decisively with geological time.

In 1945, the Great Acceleration began, a logarithmic upturn in the momentum of the Anthropocene. A thin layer of radioactive materials began to be deposited in Earth's crust, thanks to the detonation of The Gadget in Trinity, New Mexico, and the subsequent deployment of the nuclear bombs Little Boy and Fat Man.

The intersection of human history and geological time now means that no distinction can be drawn, no clear, thin bright line, between humans and nonhumans, or, in the old and now outdated (and mystifying, even dangerous) terminology, Nature. Everything—bonobos, Toyotas, plankton and toothpaste—are now on “this” side of history and social space. Which is to say, since there is no other side, that there is no “world” any more, no stable background against which human events seem meaningful. It is the end of the world, precisely, not as an apocalypse, but as the loss of an illusion, and as psychotherapy knows, losing an illusion is much more painful than losing a reality.

We are not living in the end times, as the title of a recent book by Slavoj Žižek puts it. This is the afterlife: we are already dead. Ecological awareness thus takes the form of noir fiction, that is to say, it is an Oedipal loop in which the detective finds out that he is the culprit: the difference between knowing and being known collapses, but not in the liberating manner some expect. Rather, we find ourselves caught in a reality from which we cannot extricate ourselves in a deep, ontological sense.

The implications of the end of the world are the subject of this talk.

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