“Anthropocene, Anthropocene, Anthropocene, Anthropocene.”

When I was a child, my friends and I would occasionally annoy each other by repeating a word over and over and over again in attempt to strip it of its meaning. The constant repetition of the word, a signifier that carried with it a clear signified in our minds, would quickly lose its signified image as we spoke it repeatedly.

“Jungle jungle jungle jungle jungle jungle jungle jungle.” Jungle? What is a jungle?

“Guitar guitar guitar guitar guitar guitar guitar guitar.” Guitar? What is a guitar?

I had heard the phrase “Anthropocene” mentioned a few times before I entered this class, and had a basic understanding of what it was: some sort of recently-proposed new geologic era, or epoch, or something like that in which we now live, marked by humankind’s effect on the earth and its systems. The Crutzen reading that we were assigned on the first day of class confirmed this, and I began the semester with a clear idea of what the phrase signified.

In nearly every class that followed, however, the clarity of this sign began to fade. Yes, by definition “The Anthropocene” was what I had originally thought it was, but as the readings, speakers, and discussions built on one another, it slowly morphed into a sign with a plethora of potential meanings. The Anthropocene is a recently proposed epoch that we currently live in, although its exact origins are undecided. The Anthropocene is also a societal status quo, which Juliana Spahr and Joshua Clover determine to be constructed by our driving cars, eating Chipotle, and living in condos named after Gardens. But “Anthropocene” is used to refer to both the cause and the result of the current climate crisis; the Anthropocene is our destruction of the planet’s natural systems, yet paradoxically we live in the Anthropocene because we destroyed the planet’s natural systems.

“Anthropocene Anthropocene Anthropocene Anthropocene Anthropocene.” Anthropocene? What is an Anthropocene?

I am concerned by the versatility with which we use this word. This fear developed after hearing Dr. Luciano’s “break up letter,” in which she articulated a similar frustration with the Anthropocene, from the point of a humanities scholar. Yet from the point of others involved in this greater discourse – say, a scientist or a political activist – I feel that this frustration exists as well. If we use the Anthropocene as a timeframe, a description, and an all-encompassing substitute phrase for climate change, are we detracting from its potential power? Are we taking something that could be a strong tool with which to fight for the future of our planet, and merely turning it into a buzzword, a phrase that, like quickly loses its effect the more we repeat it?

When Paul Crutzen initially uttered the word “Anthropocene” at a conference at the turn of the millennia, it immediately resonated with those in attendance – so much so, that “The Anthropocene” as a concept quickly spread to many working in the academy and earth sciences. But now, it is used as a filler word for almost anything that involves climate change, and because of this, it runs the risk of losing its signified meaning. Therefore, we must be cautious with the use of “Anthropocene” in order to keep it from losing its power. Perhaps classes like ours will help us come to realize this and approach the Anthropocene in a more diligent manner. Perhaps I’m being overly concerned. Perhaps it’s already too late.

“You Begin Writing”

I think my most pressing question after the readings this week and at the end of this course is do humans have any hope? I’ve blogged about this before, but I am still at a loss: is a hopeful tone the right way to approach the Anthropocene? We mentioned in class that as graduate students of English, we are skeptical and cynical of the hopeful message in the film, This Changes Everything­–the message that climate change is an opportunity rather than a death sentence. In addition, the scientists in “The Sixth Extinction” continue to hope that they will be able to release the frogs back into the rainforest at some point. But even they “acknowledged that they couldn’t imagine how this would actually be done” (Kolbert 14). I wonder if the Anthropocene leaves humans, including those hopeful activists and scientists, in a state of limbo. The collective, mostly Western “we” has created this new reality, yet we find ourselves powerless to change it. In consideration of my first blog post of the semester, it is inevitable and unstoppable.

Maybe this limbo leads us to misanthropy and the “#Misanthropocene.” Perhaps west melancholy is the limbo: “you exist only in the phrase you begin writing” (Clover 7). That phrase itself places the “you” in a state that forbids the completion of the action: writing. Therefore, you have no choice but to begin writing–to begin to hope for the finished book–but there is never an ending to the action or the story that you set out to write. It seems then that hope in the Anthropocene, or even the Misanthropocene, can only be false.

How to think about frogs even when you have a phobia of them

I’ll admit it, I have an all-encompassing fear of frogs and toads. There hasn’t been a day in my life that seeing one hopping along in my vicinity doesn’t send me either screaming or into a panic attack. When I was a senior in high school and walking to the driver side of my car in the garage I froze in panic upon hearing the tell-tale sign of a frog near me. I looked to my left and saw one at eye level on some boxes and immediately freaked out. It took my neighbor and 30 minutes for me to even be able to approach the garage and I was horrendously late for first period. Somehow the office did not by my frog excuse and I had to serve detention later that day. My point being, frogs have beady eyes, are terrifying, and I would honestly prefer if they stayed a minimum of 10,000 feet away from me at all times.

Yet, reading Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction I found myself contemplating one of my worst fears in a completely different manner. In all of my railings against this amphibian and expressed desires to have them stay the hell away from me, I never considered what would happen if they were to disappear for real. DC is mostly devoid of toads, well ones of an amphibious genealogy, and I can’t say I miss their presence here, but will I miss them when I return to Florida? I live off of a canal system and our neighborhood has always been overrun by the hopping nightmares. They are at the forefront of most of our minds whether it’s because we are paranoid our dogs will eat a poisonous one, or are trying to frog proof our patios and pools, or have just accidentally run over yet another one. It’s almost like what we have previously discussed in class in regards to the background becoming the foreground. Does their absence in the environment push frogs back to the background, or does it high light their existence even more? More importantly, at least to me, should I do something? I have been afraid of frogs for as long as I can remember, but I’m scared of negative environmental changes even more so, with these two fears at a crossroads is it my responsibility to act and protect the frogs as they cannot protect themselves? Or is that yet another anthropocentric viewpoint where we believe humans, who are of course the source of most environmental problems, are actually the answer as well. Personally, I’m kinda hoping it is the latter as it means I don’t have to physically be near any frogs.

Call It What You Want*: Naming the Anthropocene

Capitolcene. Chthulucene. Anthropocene. And now, misanthropocene. This week we were introduced to yet another name for the geological epoch and conceptual problem that we have been studying all semester.

In “The #Misanthropocene: 24 Theses,” Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr offer us a final (at least for our course) variation of the –cene. Where other authors this semester who have posited a new term (for an already unstable categorization) explain their rationale, Clover and Spahr let the #misanthropocene stand on its own. Although they reference “a time” and “the tempo,” explain how “it” ends, and even declare, “you call this objectivity the misanthropocene,” this is as close the poem comes to an explanation (3, 5, 8). Clover and Spahr also never dwell on the title’s “#.” This sign is only used in the title and never appears again in the poem. Presumably is a hash tag, “#” turns #misanthropocene into a keyword that can index related topics or feelings so that they might be considered collectively.

Yet I left the poem wondering how “misanthropocene” was really different from the other names. The poem does not describe the unfolding of an environmental crisis in detail, but its emphasis on “sheer scale” and our minds feeling “small and inert” felt very familiar (4). Now I’ve started to question: does it really matter? While it runs the potentially of sounding cynical, I don’t think so. In fact, it seems as though the #misanthropocene might be one of the most effective we have encountered so far because it merely captures a collection of theses rather than trying to explain them.

I’m not sure how these various names of the Anthropocene will be reconciled, if they are reconciled at all. I do think that how we name this period—whether with one name or five—will continue to shape the ability of our conversations to consider the environment’s future and our possible role in it. But at least for now, the verdict seems to be: call it what you want. We’ll figure it out later.

*I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come full circle from my first post. As I type this, I’m imagining that Clover and Spahr are already adding Taylor Swift to their list of things to fuck in the misanthropocene.

The Politics of Deliberation

Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction reminded me slightly of Pinkus’s Fuel in form. I like that she writes non-fiction/fiction in relation to one another, and I wonder if this type of writing would amend Ghosh’s issue with literature and climate change. I was intrigued to find out that the term “amphibian” means “double life,” but as I researched the term more I found that it also means “doubtful nature,” which I thought was more fascinating, even if just in an anthropomorphic sense. The term homo sapien just means “wise or rational person,” which I thought was troubling since we are the “weedy species” that has “achieved the ability to directly affect its own fate and that of most of the other species on this planet” (8). So, what’s wise or rational about our actions? We don’t seem true to our definition.
I was also interested in discussing the ethics of EVACC and other project like that. This might sound ridiculous, but I found myself for the existentiality of frogselves. If this fungi (I wish they could have told us where it stemmed from or if we had a part of making it come about) is wiping the frogs out, why don’t we just let it? It seems sad that these frogs’s use-value is no longer tied to themselves—it’s tied to humans trying to understand them. I appreciated Kolbert’s final musings about the frogs never being able to set foot in the rainforest again. Their lives will be spent in a “disinfected glass tank” (22). Her words had a melancholic tinge to them. I also thought it was sad that these scientists/frog lovers wish for a future forest for the frogs that will never come into being.
I also thought the notion of “imperialist nostalgia” to be a fascinating concept. It seems like everything goes back to colonialism. Juliana Spahr’s poem was incredible, to say the least. My favorite lines are those of thesis 19. Does this fall better into Ghosh’s terms of climate change literature?

Constructing Nature

Throughout the semester one of the main ideas we’ve all grappled with is that of humans somehow coalescing with, overtaking, and/or destroying nature. We’ve seen how human culture can be detrimental to the health and survival of animals through the Midway Project, in which animals are subjected to pain and ultimately death through a capitalistic production by humans. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction chapter takes this problem further by describing how humans can hurt animals via “natural” processes. The frogs are being killed by a fungus that exists naturally in the wild, but the detrimental effects are expedited through processes and objects that are constructed by humans.

Kolbert’s chapter led me to consider the paradoxical relationship between animals and nature that has formed as a result of the Anthropocene. Because humans have tarnished the natural environment to such an extent, there are many cases where animals are indeed safer in manmade environments. The frogs in the story, for example, are more protected by living in the EVACC area. In other words, because animals are no longer safe in nature because of human-induced changes, they are relocated and are preserved in areas that are completely controlled under human governance. Animals thus live in a type of artificial nature that is better than the “real” nature that exists outside of it. Yet in the case of the frogs, there seems to be nothing natural about their new environment at all. As Kolbert describes, the area is “by design entirely cut off from the outside world,” and the fact that everything, including the frogs themselves, is bleached before entry suggests that this is definitely not a natural environment in the traditional sense (9). Of course, another example of this relationship are zoos, in which animals live in an artificial nature constructed by humans. Like many others, I  have a tendency to dislike the concept of zoos, primarily because of the distinction I hold between an animal’s “natural” environment and zoo-based entrapment. But if “real” nature has and continues to be damaged by humans and animals are increasingly threatened in the wild, perhaps these highly controlled, artificial natures are the safest place for them to live somewhat peacefully. Regardless, animals are definitely placed in a complicated position.

Why Should I Care About the Golden Frog?: Tone and Writing in the Anthropocene Part 2

My blog post from last week left me thinking about whether or not there is a “correct” tone to use when writing about the Anthropocene or the effects of climate change. While reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, I couldn’t help but feel that the author was answering this question. Reading about the golden frogs, a species I had never heard of, I thought to myself: “Oh, this is how you do it.” Looking over my reading, I barely stopped to highlight anything because I was so engrossed in the narrative that Kolbert reveals. She gets her reader to care about what happens to an animal that I have never thought about and one that could easily kill me if I touched it.  

I have rarely read chapters of science books where I feel invested in the characters. MY favorite moment of Kolbert’s writing is when she illustrates the night she accompanied EVACC into the rainforest, looking for frog survivors. When Griffith finds a frog of the right species but wrong sex, he swabs it, takes a photo, and whispers “You’re a beautiful boy” in a moment that wavers between sweet and creepy.  

Much like the children’s science magazine Kolbert cites as her inspiration for following golden frogs, Kolbert mixes the mystery of the vanishing golden frogs, the enticingly light imagery of a frog hotel, and scientific evidence that stresses the urgency of EVACC’s efforts. In spite of the novelties of “The Sixth Extinction” the article still evokes a tone of helplessness that leaves readers upset and frightened, but are we anymore called to action?  Kolbert does an apt job addressing the ripple effects of golden frog extinction, and how this species can be seen as a metaphor for the accelerated extinction of numerous species, but is she successful? Does she answer the question how one writes about tone in the Anthropocene?

Eco-confusing

I am interested in the language of #misanthropocene 24 Theses by Joshua clover and Juliana Spahr. As I was reading the poem I was wondering if the language itself is a result of the anthropocene or to use the language of the text itself the misanthropocene. By that, I mean the anthropocene can be characterized as a confusing time as the previous class can illustrate. There is not even a geologic consensus as to how to measure the Anthropocene. There is also debate however foolishly as to whether humans are effecting the environment or if it is natural. This confusing landscape that revolves around global warming is mirrored in the poem. One of the first parts of the poem that illustrates the confusing nature of the text is in the third paragraph. The third paragraph starts with, “third of all. It keeps busy. It makes deserts bloom.” In a way, this paragraph makes the reader think that the poem is a defense for the anthropocene or misanthropocene. By that I mean it seems like it is coming from someone that believes that business would boom with global warming. The viewpoint of this paragraph seems to propose that global warming allows new openings to occur in the economy and how these openings should be exploited. The interesting aspect of this paragraph is that it contrasts with the rest of the poem. By the time we get to the point where the authors write “tenth of all” there is a complete contrast to the idea that are found in the paragraph that starts with third of all. by the time the authors right tenth of all there is already a sense of ecological awareness throughout the paragraph. Directly after the “tenth of all” that starts the paragraph they write, “Fuck the propelling of sand from the bottom of the ocean floor in a high arc so as to construct new islands. Fuck that this is called rainbowing. Fuck any sort of dredge.” The outright anger at the creation of artificial islands illustrates a kind of shift in the character’s thinking. Artificial islands can obviously be used for economic gain but the narrator has become a staunch opponent against them. The narrator no longer views the ecological system as something to be abused for monetary gain. Economics and the anthropocene are not only tied to these sections of the work but are also prevalent on a smaller or personal level. The authors write about student loan debt and the way that this is connected to the misanthropocene. The authors write how there is a connection to “student favelas” and the way that people shrug the issue of millennials as “just what it is.” Moreover, the authors wright about “west melancholy” which is only gestured to. It is interesting that melancholy occurs in the privileged west where people have better access to resources but is at the same time the poem argues is starting fell the effects of its’ complicity in global warming. The citizens of the west e.g. the post-college students who are effected by the anthropocene must now grapple with a terrifying system they have exacerbated with their own lifestyles.

“It”

Two things caught my attention as I read the assigned section of Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. The first was how much the prologue reminded me of Rachel Carson’s own introduction in Silent Spring, as both used a vague narrative that looked somewhat like fantasy at first, but then quickly appeared to be about humankind. Both were, in my opinion, effective in the way that they could play with examples and imagery, but at the same time clearly speak to the realities of human development and climate change.

The second was the manner in which Kolbert described Bd, the prevailing pathogen that is killing frogs in Panama. She used descriptions that sounded like those used in apocalypse or plague narratives, making Bd out to be some sort of dark force of unknown origin that spreads ceaselessly. “Whatever was killing the frogs was moving faster than the biologists had feared,” she says (5), also alluding to Bd as a “mysterious killer” (13). This tactic mirrors similar ones used to address the Anthropocene, which seems to evade phenomenological apprehension from authors and readers, and instead manifests itself as a looming, ominous “it.” We don’t know what the “it” really is (is it an epoch? A chain of events? A specific part of the climate crisis? A placeholder for all of the above?), but we know that something is going on, and we appear to be calling the Anthropocene. Clover and Spahr also note this in “#Misanthropocene”: “Fourth of all,” they write, “You know: it. The it that seems to be nothing but the doing of the world” (24). Is this it actually the threatening, menacing unknown that we are labeling as the Anthropocene? If so, is it an effective way to go about describing this epoch?

Video Games & the Logic of Recovery

Heise’s analysis of the elegiac modes used to understand biodiversity loss proved once again that none of my first (or second, or third) reactions to the problems we’ve studied in this class seem to be quite right. After reading and feeling quite drawn to the kind of arguments being made in Kolbert’s writing, I found myself shortly thereafter slapped upside the head with Heise’s unforgiving unpacking of the problems of reading biodiversity and the elegiac mode. And, as we see in Colebrook, nothing is quite so simple as we’d like it to be.

This in mind, I’d like to think briefly about one of the modes that shaped my ecological understanding growing up, albeit a seemingly unlikely one: video games. As Heise points out, Japan (from which most popular/easy to access video games tend to originate) had/has an uneasy relationship with “modernity” and its speedy industrialization (63). I had not heard of the account of the Honshu/Hokaiddo wolves, but this culturally embedded mythos is present in one of the games argued to be the best ever made: Ōkami, first released on the PlayStation 2 in 2006. In this game, he player controls the goddess Amaterasu in the form of a white wolf, who fights against a curse that is covering the land more or less in the form of an ecological scourge. And while this is not one of the games I played as a kid, it serves as an excellent example of the kind of logic of ecological recovery that pervades several well-loved and popular games.

Image result for okami tree

Another example I’d like to touch on is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. It’s a standout in the Zelda series for many reasons, but like many Zelda games, concerns itself with replying to a similarly scourge-like darkness that infects the land. In Majora’s Mask, the player faces the apocalypse—some evil magic has been accidentally released, and in three days the moon will fall and destroy the world. Additionally, the main areas of the world the player has access to have all been affected by this magic in ways not unlike the ecological ones we’ve discussed: the swamps have been poisoned, the mountains suffer an endless freezing winter, and the ocean is overrun with storms and contaminated water.

Image result for majora's mask swamp

So, of course, when the player defeats the boss in each area, the land returns to its normal, lush, and idyllic state. While the game is more complex than I can describe here, the essential goal of destroying the polluting enemy and returning the land to its lushness demonstrates many of the mythologies we’ve been trying to deconstruct. In saving the world via this singular hero, we see the prized individual presented as the solution; in the recuperation of the land, we see the desire to protect a pristine and stable “nature.”

Image result for majora's mask screenshots

All this to say, games like this can be very formative. I must have known vaguely about the environmentalism movement as I grew up, but that meant little to me. This game, though, meant much more. And I would say games like this (among other media of course) did a lot to train me in thinking about the environment, my relationship to it, and the problems of modern society. But, unlike other media, games lend the player-reader a sense of agency in the progression of the plot and a hand in the outcome. Games have an affective quality, instilling the feeling of saving the day on an individual level.

The studies we’ve done in this class have been broad and far reaching, and I confess there is much I’m still hazy on. Everything seems even more complicated that I thought it ever could be.  Moreover, I confess that this post has been perhaps all over the place. But as we close our time together in this course, I’m leaving with an increased interest in how interactive reading/play informs people and what stories and have been/can be told in this format. This feels a bit more manageable, because as someone who is still struggling very much with my learned responses to environmentalism, studying how these responses are learned is an important aspect (for me at least, and hopefully for others too) of the problems presented by the Anthropocene.