A Field Guide to Getting Found

Over the past few weeks collecting information for my thesis research and exploring the my topics in ENVS 350, my thought/research process in many ways has been emulating Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”. I have spent many hours reading and sitting with different scholars and considering abstract concepts, trying to pick out and follow whatever seems valuable and striking to me. This past week I finally started to emerge from this phase, organizing and critiquing what I have been thinking about and reading.

A week ago I began redoing and grounding my thesis framework. Primarily, I decided to abandon new materialism as a research topic. After reading a good amount of writing on it including some very insightful critiques from TJ Demos, many problems emerged with the authors and scholars of new materialism’s perspective and framework. They claim ownership over concepts that stem from indigenous ways of knowing, posing them as “new” when in reality they have been a part of many indigenous cultures and others.

I am abandoning new materialism as a main topic and will incorporate it mainly to critique it or as a mode of critique. All of the research I have done so far, especially reading the work of TJ Demos, has lead me back to discussion and critique of the Anthropocene and discourse around naming a new epoch. Whether or not they explicitly mean to, the work that contemporary artists are creating regarding social, political, or natural ecology speaks to the complexities of inhabiting a new epoch. 

The most commonly recognized and publicized name for a new epoch, Anthropocene, stems from the root anthropos, referring to the human race as a whole. As is thourghoughly discussed in many fields, specifically the humanities, this naming is insufficient, considering the ecological change and devastation we are facing is not the responsibility of the human race as a whole, but of a select number of capitalist, industrial nations and leaders. This naming disperses responsibility of a select group of people onto the world as a whole, erasing the narratives of people who have not been destructive geologic actors and instilling complacency with the idea that humans are and will continue to be, a destructive geologic force on the earth. In “Against the Anthropocene,” TJ Demos asserts that if the Anthropocene was officialized, its naming would be “inadvertently making us all complicit in its destructive project.” Zoe Todd asks questions critical to naming a new epoch, “What does it mean to have a reciprocal discourse on catastrophic end times and apocalyptic environmental change in a place where, over the last 500 years, Indigenous peoples faced (and face) the end of worlds with violent incursion of colonial ideologies and actions? What does it mean to hold, in simultaneous tension, stories of the Anthropocene in the past, present, and future?” These questions and others have provoked scholars to suggest other names for a new epoch.

As I presented in my thesis outline, I am shifting my focus towards proposed alternatives to the Anthropocene as names for a New Epoch. Specifically, I plan to deconstruct the proposed names, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, and Cthulucene, as well as the scholarship behind them using artists work relating to various ecologies to visualize each of these names. In doing so, I hope to consider the ways that artists visualization of a new epoch can illuminate the problems that have arisen in naming/recognizing a new epoch, with specific focus on what scholars are leaving out. Who gets to recognize and name a new epoch? What are their motives and how do they support their proposed epoch name? A new epoch is said to effect all people universally but due to significant and often extreme inequality around the globe, this is definitely not the case. Do any of these proposed names for a new epoch sufficiently encompass the violent colonial, capitalist, and industrial forces that have altered our planet beyond the point of the holocene?

Solnit, Rebecca. 2006. “A field guide to getting lost.” Canongate Books

Demos, TJ. n.d. “Against the Anthropocene:,” 57.

Todd, Z. 2016. Relationships. Cultural Anthropology21.

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