Anthropocenes: Reworking the Wound
17–20 June, 2020
Laboria Cuboniks Keynote (one by Diann Bauer, one by me), delivered remotely on the conference platform, organized by European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts, Katowice, Poland, 17–20 June, 2020. Login access required to view presentations.
Before diving in, I’d like to acknowledge the context we (now physically distant, talking heads) find ourselves in – it feels a bit disingenuous to pretend as if all is fine. It is not. And for most, it has not been fine for too long. While some of us may be temporarily lonely, missing hugs, gathering with masses at an event, or simply sharing a meal from the same plate with friends – any plea for a return normality, in an absolute sense, is equal to the endorsement of structural inequities that constitute our status quo world configuration. The show simply can’t carry on, and there seems to be an increasing popular awareness of this right now. While many suggest that the economy has been put on pause in this moment, I don’t buy into that narrative – the evidence doesn’t stack up. How else can one explain the massive gains of several corporations during lock down while essential workers struggle for the most basic of physical protections? How else can one explain the overall Stock Market gains during global Black Lives Matter Protests along with unemployment levels that are bending towards depression era numbers? How else can we explain the co-incidence of these woven, historical events with the first privately funded mission to the International Space Station? As the primary ordering-structure and logic in our societies, the ‘economy’ as we know it, is alive and well, performing exactly as it is designed to – concentrating wealth and resources for very, very few, while devaluing necessary care labour, being insufficient at resource distribution, and utterly inadequate in accounting for negative externalities in the fixing of ‘price’. The continuity of this logic is toxic. The continuity of this logic would be toxic. And yet no matter how overwhelming, this particular logic that configures our world is not permanent – and this historical impermanence must be thought. Which is another way of saying, the current configuration of the world is not necessary. So if theory is to play any sort of humble role in demonstrating this impermanence it must highlight the gap between what is probable, and what could, necessarily, be possible – a move demanding more than critical analysis alone. The reason we can come to care about this uncaring condition at all, is because we are temporal creatures invested not only in the immediate present, but in our histories and possible future states – which is why denying access to histories through deliberate erasure and invalidation, or disabling the possibility-space to shape futurity, have been long-standing techniques of dehumanization. Dehumanization is not only physical, it also manifests in the suppression of the temporal. Yet, it is because of this temporal dynamic in the praxis of being human that we can come to recognize the continuity of the status quo as a threat, as Thomas Moynihan has noted. It is because we care about future states, that continuity of the status quo reveals the immanent menace of uncaring for futural risks, including the reciprocal demands for transformation those prognosticated and immediate risks ought to catalyze. An absolute return to normal at this critical moment, would amount to an historical receipt of this uncaring, both ethically and practically.
On the issue of pragmatics, Chakanetsa Mavhunga made a crucial point on a recent podcast with Edna Bonhomme, about the need for 21st education to be put to the service of harm reduction and problem solving – and this, for him, requires troubling the enclosure of the laboratory as a primary locus of knowledge production, as well as dispensing with the heroic figure of the Genius. Since we cannot know anything without others, thinking is always, already deprivatized and collective, moving across temporalities and geographies, most often, not in a linear way. It’s long past time our pedagogic infrastructures and knowledge adjudication mechanisms caught up to this observation, since responding to climate emergency is not only a social, normative, economic, historic, biologic, ecologic, chemical or techno-scientific problem, it is all of it, entangled, at the same time. Such a demand and acknowledgement stands in contrast to many of the quick theoretical takes of our moment that often do little more than force the contents of this situation into pre-existing, canonized thought-models – rather than reflecting on how this particular situation – as a multi-disciplinary problem – breaks open a space for intellectual and conceptual vulnerability. And this vulnerability is not a bad thing, it is an affective artifact of the activity of rethinking. What is the point of concept-making after all, if they are only to be lionized and guarded within the confines of Academia to be competitively traded as mere author-enriching thought-commodities? If this situation is to be transformative in an enduring way on both personal, institutional and socio-historical levels, it needs time, reflection, emotional and intellectual humility – and above all – exposed interaction to allow it to work back upon us.