Critical Inquiry is thrilled to announce a symposium on climate change featuring Ursula K. Heise, Claire Colebrook, and Dipesh Chakrabarty held on 7 February 2020 from 2:00–6:00 pm in Classics 110.
The event is free and open to the public on a first come, first served basis. Light refreshments will be available. More information about each speaker and their papers can be found below.
Ursula K. Heise
Climate Justice and Urban Narrative
Climate change, as Mike Hulme has emphasized, cannot be dissociated from the stories we tell about climate. This lecture will ask how the concept of justice inflects commonly told stories about climate change. It will explore the role that justice plays in a series of nonfiction books about climate change that focus primarily on urban futures, such as Jeff Goodell’s The Water Will Come, Ashley Dawson’s Extreme Cities, and David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth, so as to highlight recurring story templates and their implications for arguments about justice. These narratives, like a great deal of cli-fi, rely on the age-old trope of the drowning city as a symbol for the passing of civilizations. But some recent narrative works, such as Nguyễn-Võ Nghiêm-Minh's film Nước 2030 (Water 2030, 2014) and Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 (2017), reenvision the drowning city so as to offer new stories about inequality and justice on a changing planet.
Anthropocene Objects: The Lifeboat
Perhaps one of the most common criticisms of the West, or the Anthropos of the Anthropocene, concerns the status of things and objects. If Indigenous and ancient cultures could treat trees, rivers, and other nonhumans as persons, the West increasingly disenchanted the earth, allowing for the reduction of what is other than the human subject. Nowhere is this more evident than in feminist criticisms of objectification, and in critical race theory's account of social death. If vitalism and new materialism seek to render the world alive, granting everything its own world, do these forms of revitalization create an alibi for ongoing processes of objectification? Is it dehumanizing to live life as a thing, or is "the human"––with its conception of being a pure end and not means precisely the mythos of the Anthropocene that needs to be jettisoned?
One might create a contrast between a detached and autonomous subject for whom the world is an occupied place or environment (even if the environment becomes increasingly important for us), and an existence that is best thought of as "poor in world." Here one exists and negotiates one's milieu without a profound sense of one's subjectivity. The criticism of disenchantment and objectification has a history and force beyond recent Anthropocene studies, including European Romanticism and feminist philosophy. What one might retain from all these criticisms of objectification is that the reduction of the world to mere matter, calculable substance or a domain of inert things not only impoverishes the existence of the self or subject, it also creates the current crisis generally known as the end of the world. Is it possible that one might not orient oneself towards one's milieu as if it were nothing more than an object or means? Is it possible to treat what is not human with some degree of personhood? I will explore these questions by way of one figural object, the lifeboat.
The Planet and the Human: Thinking Beyond the Globe
Beginning from the proposition that the phenomenon of global warming leads us to make a distinction between "the globe" and "the planet" as historical categories, this talk will discuss how this emerging distinction could contribute to the creation of a new and necessary philosophical anthropology.
Ursula K. Heise is Chair of the English Department at UCLA. She also holds the Marcia H. Howard Chair in Literary Studies at the Department of English and is co-founder of the Lab for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS) at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. Her research and teaching focus on contemporary literature and the environmental humanities; environmental literature, arts, and cultures in the Americas, Germany, Japan, and Spain; literature and science; science fiction; and narrative theory. Her books include, among others, Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (University of Chicago Press, 2016), which won the 2017 book prize of the British Society for Literature and Science. She is editor of the series Natures, Cultures, and the Environment with Palgrave, and co-editor of the series Literature and Contemporary Thought with Routledge. She is co-editor of the Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities (Routledge, 2017). She wrote and produced Urban Ark Los Angeles, a documentary created as a collaboration of LENS with the public television station KCET-Link.
Claire Mary Colebrook is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Philosophy, and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Pennsylvania State University. She recently completed two books on Extinction for Open Humanities Press: The Death of the Posthuman, and Sex After Life, and has co-authored (with Jason Maxwell) Agamben (Polity, 2015) and (with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller) Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (Open Humanities Press, 2016). She is now completing a book on fragility (of the species, the archive, and the earth).
Dipesh Chakrabarty is the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History and South Asian Studies at the University of Chicago. He is the author of, most recently, “The Planet: An Emergent Humanist Category,” in the Autumn 2019 issue of Critical Inquiry.
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