Brian Whitener reviews Cartographies in The New Inquiry.
In the context of the widespread conviction that we now inhabit the Anthropocene, an epoch in which mankind has risen to the dubious stature of ‘geological agent’, some earth scientists have cut through the periodising controversy – Did the Anthropocene begin with the human discovery of fire? With the industrial revolution? – by dating the onset of man’s geological maturity with disconcerting precision: July 16, 1945, the first test-denotation of an atomic bomb. The (unconsciously) political character of periodization as an act of representation and totalization could not be more clearly illustrated. The ‘end of nature’ (as autonomous from human agency) here coincides with the ‘end of history’ (as the inability to articulate that agency as a common project of emancipation), and postmodernity receives a kind of geological imprimatur, by the same token losing its own temporal contours. ‘We’ make nature, but recognizing this we also confront our inability to make history, as natural processes inextricable from ‘our’ historical agency threaten to make and unmake the present and the future in the absence of our agency. This is the backdrop of ongoing attempts to represent in the medium of photographic landscape a world wholly made over by capital accumulation, not so much an Anthropocene as a Capitalocene, to use the term proposed by Jason W. Moore. Continue reading
Why, ever since Adam, who has got to the meaning
of this great allegory — the world?
Melville to Hawthorne,
Nov. 17, 1851
First, let me reproduce the prose poem of totalisation that serves as a kind of infinitely compacted crystal of Jameson’s multi-volume Poetics of Social Forms (which is being composed in a rather inscrutable order, in ways curiously analogous to Agamben’s Homo Sacer series):‘We have indeed secreted a human age out of ourselves as spiders secrete their webs: an immense, all-encompassing ceiling of secularity which shuts down visibility on all sides even as it absorbs all the formerly natural elements in its habitat, transmuting them into its own man-made substance. Yet within this horizon of immanence we wander as alien as tribal people, or as visitors from outer space, admiring its unimaginably complex and fragile filigree and recoiling from its bottomless potholes, lounging against a rainwall of exotic and artificial plants or else agonizing among poisonous colors and lethal stems we were not taught to avoid. The world of the human age is an aesthetic pretext for grinding terror or pathological ecstasy, and in its cosmos, all of it drawn from the very fibers of our own being and at one with us in every post-natural cell more alien to us than nature itself, we continue murmuring Kant’s old questions—what can I know? What should I do? What may I hope?—under a starry heaven no more responsive than a mirror or a space ship, not understanding that they require the adjunct of an ugly and bureaucratic representational qualification: what can I know in this system? What should I do in this new world completely invented by me? What can I hope for alone in an altogether human age? And failing to replace them by the only meaningful one, namely how can I recognize this forbiddingly foreign totality as my own doing, how may I appropriate it and make it my own handiwork and acknowledge its laws as my own projection and my own praxis?’ (608) Continue reading
“The social totality can be sensed, as it were, from the outside, like a skin at which the Other somehow looks, but which we ourselves will never see. Or it can be tracked, like a crime, whose clues we accumulate, not knowing that we are ourselves parts and organs of this obscenely moving and stirring zoological monstrosity.”
[Fredric Jameson, ‘Remapping Taipei’, in The Geopolitical Aesthetic, p. 114 – on Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers, 1986]