Flashback: Coursework

It’s kind of sad that a lot (for me, most) of coursework doesn’t really find a second home, whether because of the direction your scholarship goes or just the structure/nature of the original writing. I was searching for a word in the hopes of finding a file I’d obviously not named well-enough to find it again years later, and this paper popped up. A throwback to Science Fiction and Posthumanism in the Anthropocene–one of my favorite classes. I enjoyed reading it again four years later (yikes!). I sound quite important 😉

Sarah Shelton

ENG 6370

Dr. Alaimo

23 January 2014

The Dust Accuses: Anxieties of the Anthropocene

Read together, [the articles pictured below] highlight the very instability of the “meaning” of Anthropocene. Each article explains the concept from its own angle—ranging from the debated physical evidence traced in the Zalaswiewicz article, to the “metaphoric” designation in the Robbins article, to everything in between. Several descriptions point to a change—already made or hoped for—in human understanding of our relationship to nature, one that collapses the Nature/Human binary and situates us not outside of or above a “pure,” or “wild” nature, but inside an intimately connected and now-threatened biosphere. In fact, the most interesting takes on the concept focus on how the very existence of the Anthropocene idea signals “a ‘reframing’ of normative traditions towards human and non-human life,” offering new language with which to speak about and new viewpoints from which to view human responsibility for our species’ impact on the Earth and to other species who also call it home (Alberts 6).

Along with such instability comes anxiety. What do we make of a concept that can be interpreted and used in so many different ways? Is it already defunct because of our inability to agree on a productive way to use it or is the very debate it inspires the very point and what really matters? Zalaswiewicz et al. warn that the Anthropocene “has the capacity to become the most politicized unit, by far, of the Geologic Time Scale” (2231). Are we doomed, then, to lose the positive and generative power that such a reframing offers to the quagmire of politics as usual? Will we become stymied as Robbins and Moore claim scientists caught up in anthrophobia* or autophobia** are, unable to make progress toward our desired goals because of anxiety over what it means that humans have become “geological agents” as well as biological ones (Chakrabarty 206)? Or will we find a way to come to terms with what is (despite what we think should be) and (though it requires a “human collectivity” or “universal” that Chakrabarty says we can never understand) develop a “global approach to politics without the myth of a global identity” (222).

Though Rigby claims that writing “in the mode of prophetic witness” is one way to overcome such anxieties, such endless debates and fruitless back-and-forths, or what she calls “idle chatter,” her article exemplifies the Edenic language that gave me pause in several of the articles (174). For instance, in Proctor’s review of McKibben’s book, McKibben refers to the planet as “violently out of balance,” implying that a planet older than my brain can comfortably comprehend has a “natural” and defendable “balance” that our human science can pinpoint and prove (88). Rigby, in analyzing Wright’s “Dust” as an ecoprophetic poem, determines that “the cry, which the prophet apprehends and mediates, is an indication of something drastically wrong.” “The speaker of Wright’s poem,” Rigby says, “hears the earth sighing all night” (181). Such a reading—and Wright’s own language—strikes me as an anthropocentric view dependent entirely on assuming we had—at some point—a harmonious and “good” relationship with the Earth. That there was an Eden-state where Nature was pure and wild and outside of our interference. Something can only be drastically wrong, the earth can only be violently out of balance, if we consider the Earth’s Edenic baseline to be the biosphere in which humans can survive, if we consider the “very conditions, both biological and geological, on which the survival of human life as developed in the Holocene period depends” to be the natural state of the planet (Chakrabarty 213). Considering the relatively short duration of the Holocene as compared to the other periods of geologic time, I find the human assumption of our time as the Earth’s “true” state incredibly problematic. How do we begin to take responsibility for ourselves and fulfill any ethical obligation (if we have one, which I think we do) to the other inhabitants of the current biosphere if we can’t get our heads around the idea that there is no going back on an always-already altered planet that won’t miss a step in its own evolution—no matter if we can’t speculate on a “world without us”—once we’re gone?

When Rigby claims that (in such contemporary places as sub-Saharan Africa) “the dust accuses,” she’s transferring to the planet human nostalgia for the past and human fears that we can’t or won’t adapt in time to the new world our actions have triggered. The desert doesn’t accuse us of anything. It doesn’t care what we’ve done. We care. We don’t want to be buried beneath elements we can’t survive. But the Earth itself doesn’t deal in human emotions. Personification here is certainly a powerful, persuasive tool when trying to convince others of “the catastrophic consequences of continuing on our current ecocidal path and…the possibility of another way of thinking and being” (Rigby 173-4). But to imply through figurative language that the Earth itself emotes in a way that any species could understand, to romanticize nature via the human construction of “natural,” seems too much like the human hubris/essentialism that brought us to this point in the first place.

Perhaps I have a touch of autophobia myself. I certainly don’t disagree with the arguments Rigby sets out; borders between human and non-human others must be breached if we’re going to live according to and move forward with an interspecies ethics that I can get behind. But I also see Earth’s agency as beyond any personified relationship with us. Suggesting the Earth is angry with us or seeking revenge seems too much a convention of a species only concerned with its own recorded history and not aware of its deep history. A species that needs to realize it is “dependent on other species for its own existence, a part of the general history of life,” not the origin of it (Chakrabarty 219, my emphasis).

~

* “a fearful response to … the negative normative influence of humans on the earth” (Robbins and Moore)

** “a fearful response to … the inherent influence of normative human values within one’s own science”  (Robbins and Moore)

This weekly paper response was created with Dr. Alaimo’s curation of texts as pictured below in our syllabus:

ALaimoWeekThreeCuration

Sketch: Rain

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Things are still just a little side-ways, a bit elsewhere, a neither here-nor-there. And the rain isn’t helping–days and days of it leaving puddles of what-‘s-up to walk on, to stride through with big, determined thwacks of pleather rain-boots (rarely worn yet all that’s worn this week). But still, aren’t they lovely? These unstill pools of nowhere made herenow, real as the originals, gathered (as-is) together in this frame, a wholly created  world, a spacetimemattering, a chronotope unfolded, time-through-rain. I’d like to go there. Perhaps I am there. Things do seem to still be just and maybe there.

~

 

Inspired by the 5-minute-sketch daily exercises many artists suggest for those working on drawing skills, “Sketches” on this blog are brief write-throughs diffracted through a particular image, moment, feeling (the list goes on). I set the timer for five minutes and play with language until it goes off. Whatever it is when the timer beeps is what you see on the screen now. 

Finish

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My word bracelet came the other day, and I’ve vowed to not take it off until The Dissertation is defended and Dr. Shelton I am (that’s a positive verbalization sent out into the void in now-concrete–though passively-voiced–words). I think the word is fairly self-explanatory: finish. As in what everyone says: a good dissertation is a done dissertation. Mimi would say–and I would agree–it’s missing a word that begins with the same letter, ends in -ing, and adds that little extra alliteration-driven boost that truly inspires one to kick their own bottom (going with the “not saying the actual curse-word” theme). Yet even in this Safe For Work iteration, it’s already been helpful. See, for instance, the above photo capturing (post the moment itself) a recent intra-action where I sat at my desk in Carlisle, head in hand, the plans for class in less than an hour strewn all about, worries about how any of this matters in the grand scheme of things (things being, as always these days, The Dissertation) weighing me down, and I happened to look up a bit and see my word right there, less than an inch from my nose. I sat back up (after I re-staged the moment for the picture, of course) and finished those plans which did, of course, matter in the grand scheme of things. One day/task/thing at a time (which has been a theme on here lately). Finish one, eventually finish The Diss.

As a plus, wearing it on my left wrist means it sits on or near the tattoo inspired by my Grandmother and what her life taught me about living my own. She had grit woven through all her love and laughter. And grit is what I need now more than ever. To finish. And to do it while loving myself and the work I create and the class that I teach (all while being able to laugh with that self and that grand ole scheme of things).

Juliet, Virginia, & Theadora Save the Day

I’m in love with Juliet Stevenson’s voice. Particularly married to Virginia Woolf’s words.

I first encountered the pairing while driving to Houston for a conference a couple of years ago and listening to A Room of One’s Own most of the way there. And then while walking around the Rice campus to view the school’s beauty and its outdoor art while Juliet Stevenson unrolled Virginia Woolf’s points about not walking on the grass and being barred from the library…

When I re-read those passages now, she isn’t walking on an imaginary campus my mind built from her own words, but on Rice’s lawns. And she’s burying Judith at the crossroads in The James Turrell “Twlight Epiphany” Skyspace and revealing a Mary on my way back out of town at the Rothko Chapel. But that’s a post I’m saving and have been working on for a while. It may never be just right, but I have to keep trying to capture the marriage of that voice, and those words, and these spaces.

But the point of this post is that I had no idea that Stevenson, basically, has done the audio for most of Woolf’s works. I thought it was a pairing I could return to in A Room but never experience again as that unrolling and unraveling and unfurling that enfolds and entangles and spins you into it instead of out. I stumbled onto the realization that I can have that experience again a few days ago when Audible reminded me I can’t hoard my credits and I was about to lose one and, by the way, would I like to try their 2-fo-1 mysteries special. There, as I was looking for a free book to go with my complete Sherlock Holmes read by Stephen Fry (who wouldn’t go there?), I saw Juliet Stevenson’s name and bought, on my delight in her voice alone, House of Names by Colm Tóbín. And then it occurred to me to search her name in Audible. And there they were.

I chose To the Lighthouse first.

And it was magic. Just like the first time.

I’d listened to a few twenty-minute chunks here and there—driving, dressing.

And then today came. And for some reason everything was just an inch off. Maybe even just a centimeter, but nothing was right. Nothing was good. No matter how much I got done, all that was left to do loomed over me and whispered and bore down and reminded me that I can be as productive as I want, I can get as much of my shit together as I want…

But it will never be enough. I can do all the things and still have done next to nothing [or so says the anxiety in such moments].

Too many things. Too many people needing things. Too many little things keeping me from the big. Too many big things to even know where to start. Too much. Too much. Entirely too much.

So I took a break. And I let Theadora outside and I followed her with a ball and I put my ear buds in and I turned Juliet on and I let Virginia—slowly, brilliantly, electrically—unfurl the Ramsay family and I threw the ball and Theadora raced after it and she came back and dropped it and the family lived and I threw the ball and the day dimmed a bit and the thoughts slowed and Juliet spun out the tale as easy and steady as the lighthouse light there (but not) and Theadora ran and dropped and I picked up the ball and threw and the words hummed through and into flesh and a whole world sketched itself into my backyard where Theadora ran and I threw and Juliet spun on and Virginia wove us through and into the ups and downs of the Ramsay family and from one moment to the next they were this way and another and that…

And so was I. From one moment to the next, Juliet slowed me down, saved me in fact—saved the day—and when my timer went off and Theadora’s ball session was over, Juliet and Virginia sent me back in to that room of my own in that house of my own (that’s how lucky I am) to get something, anything, one thing that turned in to many more, done.

And I thought, “I’m in love with Juliet Stevenson’s voice. I’m in awe of Virginia Woolf, full stop.”

And together, together they are magic. At least for me.

 

You Turn (Remembering, 1 Year Later)

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1 year since the first break (which was a “first-ever” soon to be, only months later, also a “first-that-year”)–L MB above, the one with a metal plate and eleven screws. 1 year since someone who could barely skate skated out onto the rink thinking she’d be a Roller Derby Queen–Rogue Won, a name I never got to claim–and tried a 180° turn when she could barely take the curve on the track. “What Is” turns on a dime, on four wheels–up one second, on the ground the next–and in that dime, on those four wheels, a lifetime, a slow-motion flash of a single starburst against a suddenly black-screen world–pain’s excess translated into a picture because the reality is a bit much, as they say. Same starburst-against-black as with my ACL back in my Intramural Basketball days and I knew, I knew it was bad–I thought, this is real, this isn’t happening, but it was–and I was still up and there was nowhere to go for a second but down, down on the same ankle…you can imagine. Then–forever, a second laterI fell. Then Little Murdermaid skated over, laughing, ready to cheer me on and get me back up, thinking it was just me falling again. And, barely looking at it out of the corner of my eye (cause when I’d looked before it seemed like my leg ended at my ankle and that image didn’t really compute), I said, deadpan and telling myself to breathe to be calm to not be that person, “I don’t think that’s normal.” She didn’t get it. So I pointed this time, looked at it myself for emphasis–it still didn’t compute but I knew and I said, “That’s not normal.” She said, “I’ll call the ambulance.” I said, “OK.”

One turn. Up one second, down the next. And life is never more real–reality never more felt–than in those moments where What Is shifts the simplest nanonothing into What Is. And the pain is nothing compared to the loss of…no, to the reminder that you never had control and the knowing–in your bones, broken or not–that there is no going back just that second (not even when it’s still one second, not even when it’s only five minutes, and certainly not when it’s 1 year later and going back doesn’t seem to matter so much as going forward). Time–that they say isn’t linear, that they say bends and spirals and plays and whatever else–is never more obvious, more powerful, more unyielding, more ridiculous than when This Is Happening while your mind insists It’s Not.

It’s good to be here–1 year later where the aftershocks of that knowing are less often and less real. These words are a starburst. Some black marks across a white page that translate the excess, the accessible, but not the moment, the reality, the knowing itself. That which can only be felt in living the shift from This to This.

Like when you step in a hole….but that’s a remembering for another time.

Acts of Being

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I love a perfect drive. In golf, at least for amateurs (and I’m a level even below that), you hit the ball, one shot at a time down the fairway, each shot a means to the green. But there are, at least for me, some shots, some moments that are perfection. Sweet. Unreal in how incredible it is that I took this club and hit this tiny ball and it went right where I wanted it to go. Hundreds of yards away. And when I played regularly those were the moments I played for. The drive that sailed, that landed right where I wanted it to go. It always amazed me how I came out of those swings not able to describe what went right. There was either in the swing or out of the swing. And once out of the swing, there was no way to recreate in words the seamlessness, the perfection, the resonance of that moment.

The golf swing is an act. An action. A moment where my physical body is. It is not just me. It is the swing, the ball, the club, the flight, the arc, the divot, the tee, the wind…When it goes right it is every part in tune and I am more than a human; I am a human within the world. In this moment, I experienced being.

How do you explain being? Sitting here, I want to stop writing. Because I can’t describe it. There is no way to share that moment with you; there’s only describing after-the-fact. But that doesn’t mean the moment wasn’t worth it. That doesn’t mean the moment didn’t exist. That doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced your own moments of being while engaging in the activity that puts you in closer contact with this resonance I felt in the swing of a club.

I believe we live for such moments of being. Chase them. Because we experience what it means, in those moments, to not be outside of and thinking on the world, but to exist within it. And it is the linking together of those meanings, those moments, the reflection upon them later, and the striving forward to get back to them that opens us out toward the other and into community instead of closing us down into the self and off behind immunity.

Writing and reading are also acts. Actions. Moments where the body physically does and physically is. The way theorists and higher education continue to theorize and use them, however, discards their physicality for practicality. Writing and reading are too often only talked about as tools. For memorization, for communication, for argumentation, for production, even for creation. Those moments where the writer writes or the reader reads are too often seen as shots along the fairway, a means to the green, to the essay, to the assessment. Students are rarely asked to reflect on who they are, how they understand themselves, what happens to them in the act of reading or writing.

They may have the moments—the perfect drive where putting words to paper or reading lives off the page resonates. Where they touch upon or experience being. But they aren’t asked to consider those moments. To reflect on them. To contemplate what they might mean. They are told that writing better or reading more will make them better citizens, better students, better employees. And yes, they might. But, as I said in my prospectus, these are intrinsic motivators at best and hegemonic moves at worst.

Not every act of writing, not every act of reading will be an act of being. Just like every shot I took in a round didn’t sing. But language, unlike golf, is not a game humans can as easily opt out of. However we engage with language—writing, reading, speaking, signing, brail—we do engage it. And that is a fact—a space for possibility—that we, as writing and reading teachers, too often fail to bring up, much less reflect on with our students.