This week I was most struck by Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr’s piece #Misanthropocene 24 Theses, which stuck out in its utter weirdness. Though as Greer pointed out, the piece doesn’t provide concrete answers to the problem of climate change, it does send the powerful message that we have misunderstood something. Or somethings, rather. We have misunderstood how to approach climate change; we have misunderstood the relationship between man and nature and between subject and object; we have misunderstood how to conceptualize mass extinction. The bluntness of this, though depressing, will hopefully prompt productive and engaging discussion during our final class tomorrow.
Though I wouldn’t say that I necessarily understand the content of #Misanthropocene 24 Theses, I do think Clover and Spahr intentionally make the pronouns of the piece ambiguous in order to blur the distinction between subject and object, something that has repeatedly come up throughout the semester. The piece begins with “fuck y’all”, with the “you” referring to the audience, implying that the authors are left out of this grouping. However, in the second thesis Clover and Spahr write, “We would all like to be violet-headed pure honey-smiling Sappho […]” (3), but who is included in this “we”? Then in the third thesis they repeatedly refer to “it”: “It keeps busy. It makes deserts bloom. It makes luxury towers just like it makes architects.” Yet this “it” is completely ambiguous and undefined, which left me confused and frustrated. The ambiguous anonymity to these pronouns stands in contrast to the intense specificity of objects that Spahr lists (similarly to her poems we read in a previous class), in sentences such as “It makes universities roads conceptual poets it makes oil-drum pyramids it makes ships of a size called Malaccamax” (4). This kind of excessive detail seems to imply that the readers have a shared understanding of this esoteric knowledge, when ultimately, the detail becomes so tedious that it renders itself meaningless. I mean seriously, I had no idea what a Malaccamax was before googling it. I think that Spahr is attempting to get rid of any concept of the individual, which she does when she groups herself into one of her targets in an angry rant: “And fuck this list with its mixture of environmental destruction and popular smugness and fuck every one of you that laughed at that rock banjo joke and fuck us all for writing it” (5).
Because Sprahr seems to be so intent on blurring the boundaries of the individual, I don’t think she would be a fan of Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, which is highly personable and clearly relies on her own experience. This relates to the authors’ constant allusion to Sappho, an ancient Greek lyrical poet. This made me think back to when we read Culler’s Theory of the Lyric, in which he describes lyric as the poetry of experience. However Spahr’s useless specificity suggests that experience is meaningless, perhaps because there is no universal experience (which relates to Pope Francis’ discussion of differentiated responsibility in regards to climate change). The final words of the piece, “Sappho Sappho Sappho not by chanting”, are thus ironic, as they are a mimetic, lyrical and ritualistic chant. Why does Spahr want to force us out of the lyric? Does it make us uncomfortable to step out of this form? Perhaps this discomfort is what we need — something that is difficult to read, with excessively crude language and a lack of punctuation to wake us up to reality.