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Temporality of the Anthropocene: Time Scales and the Environmental Humanites

October 22, 2015

4:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Temporalities Working Group Presents:
Heather Sullivan,
Trinity University
As scholars across many fields debate labeling our current geological era the "Anthropocene," or the humanly inflected age of globalized industrial particulate matter spreading across the entire planet's surface since the Industrial Revolution, the environmental humanities analyze possible models for imagining and representing such large-scale issues. How can we assess, visualize, and represent the impossibly vast scale of global pollution, global climate change, and the greatly accelerated time frame of change driven by ever-increasing fossil fuel use? In my current project, I propose a frame I call the "dark pastoral." The dark pastoral is not limited to a specific time or place or type of landscape, but it emerges most clearly with the Anthropocene, for its darkness is especially poignant with the immersion into the fossil-fueled acceleration of modern “turbo capitalism,” to use Rob Nixon’s term from SLOW VIOLENCE AND THE ENVIRONMENTALISM OF THE POOR. Indeed, the dark pastoral embodies a potential literary frame for Nixon’s “slow violence”: it writes the green fields and shepherd’s love songs as we spin across the planet in steam ships, trains, automobiles, and finally planes and space shuttles. The more we speed, the slower the pastoral narratives document their shepherds and trees. The pastoral is immensely artificial and yet provocatively confrontational to our current economic system, and its long-term textual life (since the ancient Greek poetry of Theocritus) offers a literary model for imagining the interfaces and interactions of human and other species together in green landscapes. The more urban and colonial the author, the more idealized the pastoral text tends to be: it writes its inverse, in a way. Of course, the dark pastoral in the Anthropocene writes the city and urban-scape into this frame, dripping with oil and fumes.


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