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Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever | Books | The Guardian
"We are living in the Anthropocene age, in which human influence on the planet is so profound – and terrifying – it will leave its legacy for millennia. Politicians and scientists have had their say, but how are writers and artists responding to this crisis?"

"Warren’s exhibit makes Bateley’s crackly recording available, and her accompanying text unfolds the complexities of its sonic strata. It is, as Warren puts it, “a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today”. The intellectual elegance of her work – and its exemplary quality as an Anthropocene-aware artefact – lies in its subtle tracing of the technological and imperial histories involved in a single extinction event and its residue."

"Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to our imagination by the Anthropocene is its inhuman organisation as an event. If the Anthropocene can be said to “take place”, it does so across huge scales of space and vast spans of time, from nanometers to planets, and from picoseconds to aeons. It involves millions of different teleconnected agents, from methane molecules to rare earth metals to magnetic fields to smartphones to mosquitoes. Its energies are interactive, its properties emergent and its structures withdrawn.

In 2010 Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject to denote some of the characteristic entities of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are “so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality” that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension. Among the examples Morton gives of hyperobjects are climate change, mass species extinction and radioactive plutonium. “In one sense [hyperobjects] are abstractions,” he notes, “in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.”

Creative non-fiction, and especially reportage, has adapted most quickly to this “distributed” aspect of the Anthropocene. Episodic in assembly and dispersed in geography, some outstanding recent non-fiction has proved able to map intricate patterns of environmental cause and effect, and in this way draw hyperobjects into at least partial visibility. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014) and her Field Notes from a Catastrophe (2006) are landmarks here, as is Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (2014). In 2015 Gaia Vince published Adventures in the Anthropocene, perhaps the best book so far to trace the epoch’s impacts on the world’s poor, and the slow violence that climate change metes out to them.

Last year also saw the publication of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by the American anthropologist Anna Tsing. Tsing takes as her subject one of the “strangest commodity chains of our times”: that of the matsutake, supposedly the most valuable fungus in the world, which grows best in “human-disturbed forests”. Written in what she calls “a riot of short chapters, like the flushes of mushrooms that come up after rain”, Tsing’s book describes a contemporary “nature” that is hybrid and multiply interbound. Her ecosystems stretch from wood-wide webs of mycelia, through earthworms and pine roots, to logging trucks and hedge funds – as well as down into the flora of our own multispecies guts. Tsing’s account of nature thus overcomes what Jacques Rancière has called the “partition of the sensible”, by which he means the traditional division of matter into “life” and “not-life”. Like Skelton in his recent Beyond the Fell Wall (2015), and the poet Sean Borodale, Tsing is interested in a vibrant materialism that acknowledges the agency of stones, ores and atmospheres, as well as humans and other organisms.

Tsing is also concerned with the possibility of what she calls “collaborative survival” in the Anthropocene-to-come. As Evans Calder Williams notes, the Anthropocene imagination “crawls with narratives of survival”, in which varying conditions of resource scarcity exist, and varying kinds of salvage are practised. Our contemporary appetite for environmental breakdown is colossal, tending to grotesque: from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) – now almost an Anthropocene ur-text – through films such as The Survivalist and the Mad Max franchise, to The Walking Dead and the Fallout video game series.

The worst of this collapse culture is artistically crude and politically crass. The best is vigilant and provocative: Simon Ings’ Wolves (2014), for instance, James Bradley’s strange and gripping Clade (2015), or Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake (2014), a post-apocalyptic novel set in the “blaec”, “brok” landscape of 11th-century England, that warns us not to defer our present crisis. I think also of Clare Vaye Watkins’s glittering Gold Fame Citrus (2015), which occurs in a drought-scorched American southwest and includes a field-guide to the neo-fauna of this dunescape: the “ouroboros rattlesnake”, the “Mojave ghost crab”.

Such scarcity narratives unsettle what we might call the Holocene delusion on which growth economics is founded: of the Earth as an infinite body of matter, there for the incredible ultra-machine of capitalism to process, exploit and discard without heed of limit. Meanwhile, however, speculative novelists – Andy Weir in The Martian, Kim Stanley Robinson in Red Mars – foresee how we will overcome terrestrial shortages by turning to asteroid mining or the terra-forming of Mars. To misquote Fredric Jameson, it is easier to imagine the extraction of off-planet resources than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

The novel is the cultural form to which the Anthropocene arguably presents most difficulties, and most opportunities. Historically, the novel has been celebrated for its ability to represent human interiority: the skull-to-skull skip of free indirect style, or the vivid flow of stream-of-consciousness. But what use are such skills when addressing the enormity of this new epoch? Any Anthropocene-aware novel finds itself haunted by impersonal structures, and intimidated by the limits of individual agency. China Miéville’s 2011 short story “Covehithe” cleverly probes and parodies these anxieties. In a near-future Suffolk, animate oil rigs haul themselves out of the sea, before drilling down into the coastal strata to lay dozens of rig eggs. These techno-zombies prove impervious to military interventions: at last, all that humans can do is become spectators, snapping photos of the rigs and watching live feeds from remote cameras as they give birth – an Anthropocene Springwatch.

Most memorable to me is Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel, Annihilation. It describes an expedition into an apparently poisoned region known as Area X, in which relic human structures have been not just reclaimed but wilfully redesigned by a mutated nature. A specialist team is sent to survey the zone. They discover archive caches and topographically anomalous buildings including a “Tower” that descends into the earth rather than jutting from it. The Tower’s steps are covered in golden slime, and on its walls crawls a “rich greenlike moss” that inscribes letters and words on the masonry – before entering and authoring the bodies of the explorers themselves. It gradually becomes apparent that Area X, in all its weird wildness, is actively transforming the members of the expedition who have been sent to subdue it with science. As such, VanderMeer’s novel brilliantly reverses the hubris of the Anthropocene: instead of us leaving the world post-natural, it suggests, the world will leave us post-human.

As the idea of the Anthropocene has surged in power, so its critics have grown in number and strength. Cultural and literary studies currently abound with Anthropocene titles: most from the left, and often bitingly critical of their subject. The last 12 months have seen the publication of Jedediah Purdy’s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, McKenzie Wark’s provocative Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene and the environmental historian Jason W Moore’s important Capitalism in the Web of Life. Last July the “revolutionary arts and letters quarterly” Salvage launched with an issue that included Daniel Hartley’s essay “Against the Anthropocene” and Miéville, superbly, on despair and environmental justice in the new epoch.

Across these texts and others, three main objections recur: that the idea of the Anthropocene is arrogant, universalist and capitalist-technocratic. Arrogant, because the designation of the Anthropocene – the “New Age of Humans” – is our crowning act of self-mythologisation (we are the super-species, we the Prometheans, we have ended nature), and as such only embeds the narcissist delusions that have produced the current crisis.

Universalist, because the Anthropocene assumes a generalised anthropos, whereby all humans are equally implicated and all equally affected. As Purdy, Miéville and Moore point out, “we” are not all in the Anthropocene together – the poor and the dispossessed are far more in it than others. “Wealthy countries,” writes Purdy, “create a global landscape of inequality in which the wealthy find their advantages multiplied … In this neoliberal Anthropocene, free contract within a global market launders inequality through voluntariness.”

And capitalist-technocratic, because the dominant narrative of the Anthropocene has technology as its driver: recent Earth history reduced to a succession of inventions (fire, the combustion engine, the synthesis of plastic, nuclear weaponry). The monolithic concept bulk of this scientific Anthropocene can crush the subtleties out of both past and future, disregarding the roles of ideology, empire and political economy. Such a technocratic narrative will also tend to encourage technocratic solutions: geoengineering as a quick-fix for climate … [more]
environment  geology  literature  anthropocene  speculativefiction  fiction  novels  juliannelutzwarren  extinction  2016  robertmacfarlane  posthumanism  capitalism  economics  systems  systemthinking  technology  sustainability  technocracy  capitalocene  deforestation  chinamiéville  jedediahpurdy  mckenziewark  jasonmoore  danielhartley  jeffcandermeer  tomothymorton  hyperobjects  naomiklein  elizabethkolbert  gaiavince  annatsing  seanborodale  richardskelton  autumnrichardson  rorygibb  memory  holocene  earth  salvation  philiplarkin  plastic  plasticene  stratigraphy  eugenestoemer  paulcrutzen  history  apex-guilt  shadowtime  stieg  raymondwilliams  fredricjameson  glennalbrecht  johnclare  solastalgia  inequality  annalowenhaupttsing  jedediahbritton-purdy 
april 2016 by robertogreco
polis: Happy Fifty Years, Gentrification!
"A National Public Radio (NPR) journalist tweets that "yuppies can stop feeling guilty" because —based on a cursory glance — gentrification also benefits longtime residents. NPR ran her story with a URL extension that gives away the slant: "long-a-dirty-word-gentrification-may-be-losing-its-stigma." Another reporter — looking at the same neighborhood as NPR — asks rhetorically, "is bemoaning the gentrification of Washington, DC, a genre past its prime?" (File this one under: Writing by the Victims of Moaning About Gentrification.)"

"But gentrification, as a word, is incapable of projecting the benign "balm" that some in the media and academia make it out to be. Does anyone identify as gentry? Hardly anybody (though some people do, certainly). But do any of the gentrification-friendly journalists self-identify as gentry? The gentry are generally understood to be an over-advantaged lot. In the history of literature and art, the gentry hoard property and privilege as much as they can, yet they obsess over their manners and style in order to disguise their rapacity. These are the basic reasons why gentrification carries with it the power of biting satire. Glass (a Marxist) was well aware of this. It's precisely because no one likes to reveal themselves as such shameless climbers that periodic efforts emerge to revise the definition of the word and deaden its force. In reality, using the word without its satirical edge is a surefire recipe for sounding like a member of the gentry oneself.

Indeed, urban dwellers (or their scribes) are free to identify as the entitled members of a rigid caste system if they like, but that doesn't mean they can salvage the term gentrification for the better. One can't have it both ways. Either there is gentrification or there isn't. Period. And recalling Barton, I'd venture to say that the locals experiencing it have a better sense of what's going on. To give it any positive spin implies denial of the stratifying wave the process begets. In short, gentrification doesn't just happen."

"Here is another way to look at it: for these studies and articles to be on the mark, their authors must unfortunately be using gentrification wrong. If everyone's lot is improving, then we're not speaking of gentrification, or are we? Perhaps this is the case and the word has been poorly chosen. But NPR's Laura Sullivan and the scholars she cites do stress gentrification time and time again. They seem to celebrate what they see changing. She writes, "every other shop is a new restaurant, high-end salon or bar. The neighborhood is gentrifying." Whether this cohort realizes it or not, it takes gentrification to usher in the gentry, and vice versa. And even if some legacy residents stick it out, that is not evidence of gentrification's benevolent gifts trickling down to these folks."

"The core problem with these stories reflects a turning away from what gentrification precisely means, perhaps out of fear that one is, or could be, complicit in the process. And yet, at the same time, the classist anxieties over gentrification's Other — Brown's "slumification" comment, for example — show how phobias of the poor and colored rank higher than a concern over one's own role in the process. This hardly makes for good research or journalism.

I, for one, would be thrilled to read that gentrification is not happening — that we all misidentified one of the most significant urban restructuring processes of the past half-century. But if gentrification is taking place — and it certainly is (and has) — someone must be practicing it. Moreover, even among studies that acknowledge the detrimental effects of gentrification, there is a pattern of focusing on the seemingly independent decisions made by individual homebuyers (and, sometimes, renters). These housing consumers are in a putative "market" devoid of actual power brokers. Realtor groups, homeowners associations, business improvement districts, employers, public and private police forces, government policymakers, planning consultants, politicians, marketing agencies, banking and insurance firms, and the news media all cooperate, in different ways, to gentrify.

So the constant focus on the homebuyer/renter as the sole gentrifier can have a detrimental effect on anti-gentrification efforts. The consumer doesn't act alone. The usual hero or villain central to gentrification narratives — the consumer (if such an abstraction has any meaning) — is more likely to be the last ingredient in the mix. Therefore, the concerted pressure of gentrification suggests that communities should not cede possession of the term itself."
javierarbona  2014  gentrification  cities  inequality  housing  urbanism  urban  language  economics  power  justindavidson  rosalyndeutsche  caragendelryan  ruthglass  neilsmith  robgodspeed  laurasullivan  danielhartley  jerrybrown  oakland  washingtondc  jonathanmahler  raniakhalek  dc 
february 2014 by robertogreco

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