On Balance

I’ve developed an enthusiasm recently for stone balancing. Not for doing it myself—I haven’t remotely got the dexterity or the patience—but for photos and videos of rocks stacked on top of one another in impossible ways (there are videos all over YouTube, and pictures all over the internet). The connections to thinking about stratigraphy and about the Anthropocene are easy to see: scrupulous attention to rocks arranged in vertical layers; the anamnesic quality of stone, or the way it can turn out to hold within itself improbable forms, like fossils; the delicate connection between human intention and mineral solidity, attuned to the possibility of disaster; stone, sheerly, the mesmeric draw of the lithic celebrated by Jeffery Jerome Cohen. Continue reading “On Balance”

New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 6)

Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “Petrifying Earth Process: The Stratigraphic Imprint of Key Earth System Parameters in the Anthropocene,” Theory, Culture & Society 34:2–3 (2017), 83–104

This is another paper from the splendid TCS special issue on ‘geosocial formations and the Anthropocene.’ It’s not strictly an AWG paper, in fact, but close enough. It’s signed by five key members (Zalasiewicz, Will Steffen, Reinhold Leinfelder, Mark Williams and Colin Waters), and it’s clearly continuous with the group’s project as a whole. Specifically, it complements the Steffen et al. paper I wrote about here last September. It continues to explore the question, broached there, of the relationship between the Earth System Science and stratigraphic versions of the Anthropocene. Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 6)”

Chakrabarty’s Lifeboats, Again

Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘The Politics of Climate Change Is More Than the Politics of Capitalism,’ Theory, Culture & Society 34:2–3 (2017): 25–37

To recap:

Near the end of his seminal ‘The Climate of History,’ Dipesh Chakrabarty wrote this:

Climate change, refracted through global capital, will no doubt accentuate the logic of inequality that runs through the rule of capital; some people will no doubt gain temporarily at the expense of others. But the whole crisis cannot be reduced to a story of capitalism. Unlike in the crises of capitalism, there are no lifeboats here for the rich and the privileged (witness the drought in Australia or recent fires in the wealthy neighborhoods of California). (p. 221)

Continue reading “Chakrabarty’s Lifeboats, Again”

Of Form and Formalization

I spent the middle of this week at an exceptionally thought-provoking conference. I wanted to say something here in oblique response to one of the most interesting papers I heard.

My account of the Anthropocene puts a great deal of emphasis on the prospect of stratigraphic “formalization”: on the possibility that a new epoch-level unit called the Anthropocene might be added to the chronostratigraphic chart maintained by the International Commission on Stratigraphy. Why? Continue reading “Of Form and Formalization”

Brain Power

Catherine Malabou, “The Brain of History, or, the Mentality of the Anthropocene,” South Atlantic Quarterly 116:1 (2017), 39–53 (preprint, here)

Malabou’s penetrating essay begins with the seeming antithesis between Dipesh Chakrabarty and Daniel Lord Smail. Chakrabarty and Smail both propose powerfully innovative ways of thinking about deep history that have masses to contribute to discussions of the Anthropocene. The apparent contrast between them is that Chakrabarty is on the side of the geological, and Smail on the side of the biological—or more specifically, the neurological. Malabou’s aim is to undo and recast that antithesis. Continue reading “Brain Power”

Period of Debate

Erle Ellis, Mark Maslin, Nicole Boivin and Andrew Bauer, “Involve social scientists in defining the Anthropocene,” Nature 540 (December 2016), 192–193

Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Waters and Martin J. Head, “Anthropocene: its stratigraphic basis,” Nature 541 (January 2017), 289

Karen L. Bacon and Graeme T. Swindles, “Could a potential Anthropocene mass extinction define a new geological period?” Anthropocene Review 3:3 (2016), 208–17

Philip L. Gibbard and John Lewin, “Partitioning the Quaternary,” Quaternary Science Reviews 151 (2016), 127–39

Last week’s paper is the most systematic recent contribution to the debate about the Anthropocene’s stratigraphic formalization. Here’s a round-up of a few others. Continue reading “Period of Debate”