Climate Realism International Colloquium

Climate Realism, Media@McGill’s international colloquium, asks leading scholars in the humanities and social sciences to spell out a new research agenda for climate theory and aesthetics in the age of the Anthropocene. How is realism—in both the aesthetic history of representation and the philosophical tradition that underwrites it—transformed by contending with our new experience of climate in the Anthropocene? In order to temper climate change — to apprehend its complexity, to address its short- and long-term consequences, to mitigate its many sources — Climate Realism boldly claims we must develop new aesthetic theories and projects.


Barbara Herrnstein Smith - Opening keynotePanel 1 - The Climate of Representation

Panel 2 - The Subject of Climate

Panel 3 - Climate and the Critique of Realism, or Realism and the Critique of Climate

Project Overview

Climate Realism names the challenge of representing and conceptualizing climate in the era of climate change. Climate has traditionally referenced the weather it gathers, the mood it creates, and the settings it casts. In the era of the Anthropocene—the contemporary epoch in which geologic conditions and processes are overwhelmingly shaped by human activity—climate indexes not only atmospheric forces but the whole of human history: the fuels we use, the lifestyles we cultivate, the industrial infrastructures and supply chains we build, and the possible futures we may encounter. In other words, with every weather event, we have become acutely aware that the forces indexed by climate are as much social, cultural, and economic as they are environmental, natural, and physical. By starting with this fundamental insight, Media@McGill’s international colloquium intervenes in the well-established political and scientific discourses of climate change by naming and exploring emergent aesthetic practices, and the conceptual project of mediating the various forces embedded in climate.

Climate Realism is an occasion to rethink the aesthetics and politics of climate in its myriad forms; to capture climate’s capacity to express embedded histories; to map the formal strategies of representation that have turned climate into cultural content; and to index embodied currents of past and future climates. How is realism—in both the aesthetic history of representation and the philosophical tradition that underwrites it—transformed by contending with our new experience of climate in the Anthropocene? What, if anything, separates first and second nature in an age contoured by climate crisis, and what does this mean for a history of philosophy premised on their difference? In order to temper climate change—to apprehend its complexity, to address its short- and long-term consequences, to mitigate its many sources—Climate Realism boldly claims we must develop new aesthetic theories and projects.

The Climate Realism project is conceived by Lynn Badia, Marija Cetinic, and Jeff Diamanti. The international colloquium has been developed in collaboration with Media@McGill.

Pierre Bélanger (Harvard University)
Amanda Boetzkes (University of Guelph)
Ingrid Diran (Pacific Northwest College of Art)
Anne-Lise François (University of California, Berkeley)
Barbara Herrnstein Smith (Duke University)
Graeme Macdonald (University of Warwick)
Alessandra Ponte (Université de Montréal)
Nicole Starosielski (New York University)
Antoine Traisnel (University of Michigan)
Michelle Ty (Clemson University)
Kyle Powys Whyte (Michigan State University)
Kathryn Yusoff (Queen Mary University of London)


Pre-conference event: CLIMATE REALISM – Preliminary Encounters
Thursday, 9 March 2017, 5-7pm, Canadian Centre for Architecture

Join Media@McGill for a series of short interventions and critical readings on the themes of climate, art, media and environment.

Colloquium schedule – 10 March 2017, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

Opening words

Keynote: Barbara Herrnstein Smith (Duke University)
“Perplexing Realities: Practicing Relativism in the Anthropocene”

Panel 1: The Climate of Representation

Amanda Boetzkes (University of Guelph) “Ecological Postures Towards a Climate Realism”
Anne-Lise François (University of California, Berkeley) “Figures of Improvisation, or what to Glean from a Climate Realism”
Alessandra Ponte (Université de Montréal) “Governing Climate”

Panel 2: The Subject of Climate

Kathryn Yusoff (Queen Mary University of London) “Geologic Realism: Epochal Thoughts and the Terminal Beach of Geologic Time”
Nicole Starosielski (New York University) “Thermal Vision”
Michelle Ty (Clemson University) “Realism’s Phantom Subjects”

Panel 3: Climate and the Critique of Realism, or Realism and the Critique of Climate

Kyle Powys Whyte (Michigan State University) “Indigenizing the Time, Memory and History of Climate Change”
Ingrid Diran (Pacific Northwest College of Art) and Antoine Traisnel (University of Michigan) “Climate Change, Natural History, and the Extinction of Thought”
Graeme Macdonald (University of Warwick) “Petrorealism and the Figure of the Offshore”

Keynote: Pierre Bélanger (Harvard University) “EXTRACTION”



Title: “Climate Realism: Aesthetics of Weather, Climate, Atmosphere”

Three panelists from across the spectrum of energy and environmental humanities will address Climate Realism at MLA 2017, bookended by a short introduction on the concept of the panel by Marija Cetinić, and a brief response by Lynn Badia.

Calista McRae’s paper, “More than weather”: Climate in Clampitt,” studies the atmospherics of Amy Clampitt’s poetry in relation to recent debates about the literary history of the lyric. McRae argues that both mood and weather are bound to one another in Clampitt’s ecopoetics, and the spectre of climate crisis therefore gets projected as a lyrical crisis. McRae’s talk concludes with a brief survey of related techniques in other late-20th-century poems. Matthew Schneider-Mayerson’s “Confronting Collapse: Surveying Apperception and Activism in Global Climate Change Fiction” measures the formal and thematic effects of recent climate change fiction through both a close and a distant reading of Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (2012), Daniel Kramb’s From Here(2012) and Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet (2015). Schneider-Mayerson analyzes how “cli fi” models and creates the intellectual and affective apperception of climate crisis alongside moments of ephiphanic awareness, which prompts subsequent activism or quiescence. The paper’s aim is to both distil the emergent conventions of climate realism, and to offer a form of literary analysis specific to this new aesthetic category. And finally, Jeff Diamanti’s “Clouds, Climate, Crisis: A Short Art History of the Weather” compares the aesthetic theory of the cloud as it was initially formulated in Hubert Damisch’s ground-breaking Theory of /Cloud/: Toward a History of Painting (1972) to the contemporaneous emergence of two very different cloud-based architectures: Diller, Scofidio + Renfro’s “Blur Building” at the Swiss Expo, 2002, and Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud in 2006. Between the theoretical and architectural turn to clouds, Diamanti argues, is the materialization of what was the trope of weather that underwrites the discourse of mood in 20th century theory.

Put in conversation with one another, these papers name and clarify the aesthetics and formal strategies of “climate realism.” Each of our panelists examine the aesthetics of atmospherics in order to map new discursive, political, and affective formations that began to emerge in the late 20th century. The framing comments and responses to be given by Cetinić and Badia will make these connections explicit and elaborate how the significance of weather, climate, and atmosphere is transformed by contending with the new realities of climate crisis in era of the Anthropocene.


Marija Cetinić: Moderator
Marija Cetinić is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at York University. She held a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Alberta. Signs of Autumn: The Aesthetics of Saturation, her current project, focuses on the concept of saturation, and on developing its implications for the relation of contemporary art and aesthetics to political economy. Her essays have appeared in Mediations, Discourse, and European Journal of English Studies. “House, Library, Field: The Aesthetics of Saturation” appears as a chapter in Neoliberalism, Value, and Jouissance. “Affect Theory” is forthcoming in A Companion to Critical and Cultural Studies.

Jeff Diamanti: Panelist
Jeff Diamanti is the 2016-17 Media@McGill postdoctoral fellow in “Media and the Environment.” He is co-editor on a number of collections and companions on energy, climate and political theory, including After Oil (Winter 2016), a special issue of Reviews in Cultural Theory on “Envisioning the Energy Humanities” (March 2016), and Materialism and the Critique of Energy (forthcoming 2017). He has an article forthcoming on naturalism in US fiction and the transition to an oil economy in Western American Literature; energyscapes and the architecture of postindustrial philosophy in Postmodern Culture; and is working on a monograph titled The Long Transition: Market Media and the Future of Energy.

Calista McRae: Panelist
This spring Calista McRae will receive her PhD from Harvard, where she specialized in lyric poetry; starting this fall she will be an Assistant Professor of English at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Her current book project, Lyric as Comedy, focuses on humor and poetics in recent American writers; it argues that attention to lyric can expand our conceptions of comedy. A version of her first chapter will be published by Modern Philology in the fall of 2016; another recent article on Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell is forthcoming from Arizona Quarterly.

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson: Panelist
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson is Assistant Professor of Humanities (Environmental Studies) at Yale-NUS College. He has a PhD in American Studies from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and was a Cultures of Energy Postdoctoral Fellow at Rice University. His first book, Peak Oil: Apocalyptic Environmentalism and Libertarian Political Culture, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2015. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, Environmental Politics, American Studies and the Journal for Religion, Nature and Culture, and he is the founder of the “Fossilized in Houston” public climate art project. His current research concerns the reception and impact of climate change fiction; narratives of the ongoing energy transition; the naturecultures of Singapore; and novel forms of collective happiness for the Anthropocene.

Lynn Badia: Respondent
Lynn Badia is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta in the Department of English and Film Studies. For the Fall 2015 term she was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge, as part of the Climate Histories Research Group at CRASSH Cambridge and Cambridge Interdisciplinary Research on the Environment. Badia’s research in literature, film, philosophy, and cultural studies is focused on questions about scientific knowledge and the natural world during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her research is published in or forthcoming from Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Cultural Studies, Rutledge, and Fordham University Press, with additional working publications under contract. She is currently completing her second book manuscript, Imagining Free Energy: Fantasies, Utopias, and Critiques of America, which introduces the concept of “free” or unlimited energy as a critical framework for understanding the conditions of American society since the beginning of the industrial era.

Special Issue

Resilience: An Environmental Humanities Journal
Double Issue

Climate Realism: The Aesthetics of Weather, Climate, and Atmosphere
Edited by Lynn Badia, Marija Cetinić, and Jeff Diamanti

This special, double issue collects new accounts and theories of climate from scholars and artists engaged in the Environmental Humanities, and it promises to archive and clarify the emergent aesthetic economy and formal strategies of “climate realism.” These proposed contributions, one of which is a lexicon and photo essay, engage a range of formal strategies and experiments in the representation of climate, across various mediums. A series of ten succinct essays (5000-7000 words) will allow the issue to cover a more comprehensive range of media, including fiction, lyric, sound, photography, and film. In doing so, these entries take up theoretically challenging questions about how climate change forces us to reconsider our classic philosophical categories and to revise the category of “media” itself in order incorporate the inscriptive forces of the nonhuman and material world.

Colloquium Programming Committee
Dr. Jeff Diamanti, 2016-17 Media@McGill Postdoctoral Fellow, McGill University
Dr. Marija Cetinić, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Alberta
Dr. Lynn Badia, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta
Prof. Darin Barney Grierson Chair in Communication Studies, Department of Art History & Communication Studies, McGill University
Prof. Christine Ross, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Colloquium Organizing Team
Dr. Jeff Diamanti, 2016-17 Media@McGill Postdoctoral Fellow, McGill University
Prof. Darin Barney Grierson Chair in Communication Studies, Department of Art History & Communication Studies, McGill University
Prof. Christine Ross, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Dr. Tamar Tembeck, Academic Associate, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Mary Chin, Administrative Coordinator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University
Caitlin Loney, Graphic Designer and Web Administrator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Media@McGill Colloquium Partners
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; McGill University: Dean of Arts Development Fund, Grierson Chair in Communication Studies, James McGill Chair in Culture and Technology, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, William Dawson Scholar of Feminist Media Studies, Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy, McGill School of Environment, Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas (IPLAI); Canadian Centre for Architecture; Media History Research Centre, Concordia University; Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies, University of Alberta.

Speaker Bios and Abstracts

Pierre Bélanger "Harvard University"


“What we from our point of view call colonization, missions to the heathen, spread of civilization, etc., has another face—the face of a bird of prey seeking with cruel intentness for distant quarry—a face worthy of a race of pirates and highwaymen. All the other eagles and other predatory creatures that adorn our coats of arms seem to me apt psychological representatives of our true nature.”
–Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961)

The current discourse on climate change has failed to acknowledge the territorial sovereignties and political geographies that confront the bounded systems and perceived permanence of the nation state. The real crisis, if there is one, seems to be located in the minds, models, and media of citycentric populations that are more and more removed from means of material production and territories of resource exploitation. Put otherwise, the map is no longer the territory.

This spatial, ontological divide—between metropolis and hinterland—is exacerbated by an explosion of industrial operations and incorporations seamlessly crossing political boundaries and geographic borders. So large, so vast, and so fast is the pace and scale of these operations, they are seemingly impossible to imagine, let alone to represent. Although the flow and concentration of industrial extractive capital may vary with ‘urban demand,’ ‘technological capacity,’ or ‘discovery of resources’—whether onshore or offshore, structures of political power and systems of social control have remained relatively unchanged and unchecked for the past four to five centuries. In the words of systems thinker Georg Hegel (Philosophy of Right, 1820): “the development of the State into a constitutional monarchy is the supreme product and power of the world today, in which its ideal and unlimited condition has been reached.” Clearly, the contemporary, colonial condition survives.

If then “the problem of territory, and of territoriality, is one of the most neglected in geography and political economy” according to the alter-urbanist Claude Raffestin (Pour une Géographie du Pouvoir, 1980), how should we re-imagine the current axis between the metropolis and the hinterland that underlies the contemporary focus on the city and on the state? How do we rethink, resist, and subvert the imposed, imperial binaries between the urban and the rural, the north and the south, the center and the periphery, that are entrenched in misleading oppositions of town and country, property and sovereignty, occupation and inhabitation, settlement and seasonality, civilization and wilderness? Drawing from the claim by contrarian economist John Kenneth Galbraith (The New Industrial State, 1967) that “capital and power became

Drawing from the claim by contrarian economist John Kenneth Galbraith (The New Industrial State, 1967) that “capital and power became more important land in the past century,” the renewal of the geopolitical discourse on territory is fundamentally contingent on the reclamation of land, landscape, and life.

Proposing a contra-colonial lens, this presentation profiles current Canadian states and scales of extraction through 3 inter-related processes that lie between the colonial conceptions of the metropolis and the hinterland: territorial displacement, regulatory discrimination, and indigenous dispossession. Drawing from subliminal symbols and persistent projections of state power, specific references will be made to professional practices and institutionalized disciplines of architecture, engineering, and planning whose origins reveal underlying imperial motives and whose pedagogical curriculum continue to normalize colonial systems of spatial inequity through countless standards, surveys, specifications, and signifiers. Inscribed in this bureaucratic structure and infrastructural grid of banks, prisons, parks, cities, suburbs, highways, dams, mines, pipelines, and reservations (to name a few), these systems represent the engineered slate upon which the State—and of the Crown—exercise their influence and perpetuate their supremacy.

Critically questioning the current and fervent climate of celebration of Canada’s 150 years of Confederation in 2017, the presentation seeks to contribute a basis for undermining the industrial underpinnings and imperialist hegemonies that lie on, and below the surface of contemporary settlerstate space whose foundations rely and rest on the perpetuation of undisclosed spatial inequities, environmental injustices, and cultural inhumanities.

Bio: As a Canadian-American Landscape Architect and Urban Planner, Pierre Bélanger is Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and Co-Director of the Master in Design Studies (MDes) Program Area in Urbanism, Landscape, and Ecology with urban geographer Neil Brenner and design engineer Bobby Pietrusko. Cross-appointed with the Advanced Studies Program in Design and the Canada Program at the Harvard Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Bélanger teaches and writes on subjects at the intersection of territory, history, infrastructure, media, conflict, and power. Involved in trans-media activist practice, his most recent work includes the curation of the controversial Canadian Pavilion on #EXTRACTION at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale (@1partperbillion) in collaboration with goldsmiths Kevin Hume & Geneviève Ennis (Atelier Hume, Vancouver), design fabricator Stephen Beites (Beites & Co., Toronto), ecologist & planner Nina-Marie Lister (Ryerson University, Toronto), and the architectural collective RVTR (Toronto-Detroit). As the first landscape architect to receive the Canada Prix de Rome in Architecture, Bélanger is also author of the 35th edition of Princeton Architectural Press’ Pamphlet Architecture Series in 2015, titled “GOING LIVE: From Models to Systems,” which profiles the influence of time on a range of territories through living systems and lived experiences, and also features conversations with Keller Easterling, Sanford Kwinter, and James Corner. Bélanger’s recent publications include two core books designed by OPSYS Media that employ the lens of land and landscape to understand the power of nation states, institutional systems and engineering sciences, LANDSCAPE AS INFRASTRUCTURE: A Base Primer (Taylor & Francis, 2016) with a foreword by technological historian Rosalind Williams, and ECOLOGIES OF POWER: Countermapping the Military Geographies & Logistical Landscapes of the U.S. Department of Defense co-authored with Alexander Arroyo (MIT Press, 2016). Recent collaborations include guest editing the 39th Issue of Harvard Design Magazine with Jennifer Sigler titled “Wet Matter”, an issue exploring the future of the ocean and precursor to research on world waters, The Oceanic Turn. He is also editor of the forthcoming book EXTRACTION EMPIRE (MIT Press, 2017) featuring a range of interviews, archives, and essays from Canada’s most influential scholars, artists, and industrialists, profiling the scales, spaces, and systems of the largest resource extraction nation on the planet.

Amanda Boetzkes
University of Guelph

“Ecological Postures For a Climate Realism”

The ways we imagine and respond to ecological crisis are centrally bound to acts of representation that condition perception. In turn, the honing of vision plays an integral role in shaping the course of ecological knowledge. Currently, this aesthetic activity is occurring at precisely the moment when scientific knowledge of climate change is hotly contested by corporations, governments and the general population alike. Moreover, the material terms of perception have been called into question by the radically alien perspectives on which we must now speculate: the micro and macro scales of anthropogenic change, from geochemical and atmospheric transformations to epigenetic metamorphoses. Thus, a constellation of new ontological and epistemological demands is putting the previous ground of the life sciences in an “objective knowledge” through its paces. Climate skepticism occurs in conjunction with a heterogeneous climate realism.

In many respects, the disputes over knowledge-claims produce a delusional condition: even as there is a collective demand to pay attention to ecological crisis in its varied forms, entrenched forms of political resistance dislodge the underpinnings of this attention in order to maintain existing infrastructures that subtend the prevailing economy of knowledge. This is especially true as the location of ecological crisis becomes “climatic”; of the air, atmosphere, and in seemingly ungrounded and immaterial phenomena. The tension between a growing popular knowledge about climate change and the inhibition of political action produces a kind of cultural spasm, in Felix Guattari’s terms: a painful and compulsive mobilization of nervous energies that are both symptomatic of an intensified, excitable discourse and an exploitation of those energies for the preservation of the social body. The question becomes, then, how do we disengage from this refrain of continually “reading signs” of climate change and then being discredited as illiterate?

I will argue that contemporary art provides an alternative ground on which to experience and make claims about the realism of climate change and its impact. I will chart a trajectory that begins with an originary form of ecological denial, the political “cover-up,” common in the late decades of the 20th century when governments tested chemicals in depressed cities across North America and then denied the physical effects of their slow violence. This overt denial became an integral facet of the more recent and culturally distributed forms of denial that accompany climate change-related catastrophes. Importantly, I will chart this course through the lens of conceptual artists. Thus, my ambition is not merely to provide an environmental history, but also to show how artists present ecological crisis through alternative sensibilities that attempt to ease the spasmic refrain that patterns the battle over the truth about the climate, and resolve it into a re-syntonization of bodies, knowledge and exchange. I consider how art accomplishes this through propositions of moods and modalities that open the possibilities for navigating the new terrain of climate realism. I will examine four works of art: Tony Oursler’s 1993 video, Kepone; Mel Chin’s Operation Paydirt (2006-ongoing); Mary Mattingly’s Wearable Homes (2004-ongoing), and Ganzug Sedbazar’s “Aya Khai” (2015).
Bio: Amanda Boetzkes is Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Guelph. Her research and publications focus on the intersection of visual and creative practices with the biological sciences (particularly ecology and neurology). Her first book, The Ethics of Earth Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), considers the development of the earth art movement, focusing on how ecology transitioned from a scientific discourse to a domain of ethical and aesthetic concern. She is co-editor, with Aron Vinegar, of Heidegger and the Work of Art History (Ashgate Press, 2014). She is completing a book entitled Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste, which examines the interplay between the aesthetics of contemporary art, global systems of energy-use, and the life cycle of garbage. Boetzkes has published in the journals Postmodern Culture; Art History; Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture; RACAR; Antennae: The Journal of Nature and Visual Culture and Eflux. Her upcoming book project, Ecologicity: Vision and Art for A World to Come, analyzes the aesthetic and perceptual dimensions of imagining the ecological condition. She is currently a Carson Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany.

Ingrid Diran (Pacific Northwest College of Art) and Antoine Traisnel (University of Michigan)

“Climate Change, Natural History, and the Extinction of Dialectical Thought”

In “The Climate of History,” Dipesh Chakrabarty asserts that “Marxist analysis of capital, subaltern studies, and postcolonial criticism” fail to account adequately for the realities of climate change, for the latter erodes the distinction between geological and human time. In this paper, we argue that the crisis of Marxist criticism to which Chakrabarty attests is symptomatic of a larger threat that the Anthropocene poses to traditional thought: the extinction of dialectical critique.

The most rigorous attempt to think nature and history dialectically is the notion of “natural history” developed by Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. For both philosophers, nature and history form a chiasmus of antithetical temporalities. The juxtaposition of nature (in its continuity) and history (in its transience) charges every figure in which they coincide with considerable force. Thus, for instance, Benjamin can write, with a flourish simultaneously allegorical and critical, that the patrons of the Paris Arcades were “the last dinosaurs of Europe.” Not only are these consumers pre-historic, he implies, but their antediluvian appearance blasts any “natural” or continuous sense of the development of consumerism as such. It is to the legibility of this juxtaposition of nature and history that Chakrabarty’s essay addresses itself. For to the extent that the Anthropocene implies a convergence of human and geological time, it is suddenly uncertain whether the dialectical charge behind the notion of natural history can be maintained. If climate change erases the distinction between nature and history, has it also rendered dialectics itself the newest fossil of an extinct epoch of thought?

Far from settling the matter, our essay seeks to identify particular features of Anthropocenic discourse that appear to spell the doom of dialectics. In particular, we examine the combination of scale and speed that informs its imaginary. Attending to the strategies by which the Anthropocene’s planetary scope secures the place of the “anthropos” at the centre of climate change while simultaneously rendering such change largely intractable to human action, we consider how an announcement of the acceleration of geologic time obscures what is unchanging in the Anthropocene: the nature of capitalist production.

Bios:Antoine Traisnel is an Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has published on various topics in the fields of American, French and German literature and philosophy, critical theory, cultural studies, and the posthumanities. He is the author of two monographs: Hawthorne: Blasted Allegories (Aux Forges de Vulcain, 2015) and Donner le change: L’impensé animal (Hermann, 2016), written in collaboration with Thangam Ravindranathan. Traisnel’s current book project, Life in Capture: Animal Pursuits in Early America, looks to literary, artistic, and scientific works from Melville to Audubon, Cooper to Muybridge to track how the capture of animals, both literal and figural, composed the tacit logic and representational grammar of biopolitical modernity.

Ingrid Diran is an instructor in liberal arts at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. She has written on various topics in the field of biopolitics, critical theory, and African American literature. Her book project Mutinous Muteness: Radicalizing Illegibility in Twentieth-Century African American Literature explores how black modernism develops a poetics of illegibility that uses the self-explanatory and invisible presumption of whiteness against itself. She is currently at work on two new projects, one elaborating a poetics of unthinkability in the era of digitization, biosecurity, and the Anthropocene, and another that reads the work of Foucault and Du Bois in tandem to rethink the history of biopolitics in the U.S.

Anne-Lise François (University of California, Berkeley)

“Flowers of a Day: Margins, Reserves, Climate Change”

In a recent essay “Feral Biologies,” Anna Tsing calls the Holocene “the long period when refugia, places of refuge, still existed, even abounded, to sustain reworlding in rich cultural and biological diversity.” For Tsing “the inflection point between the Holocene and the Anthropocene might be the wiping out of most of the refugia from which diverse species assemblages (with or without people) can be reconstituted after major events.” The notion of a world without margins of refuge can be compared to Michel Serres’s claim that the total reach of global industrial capitalism means that “nature” no longer exists as a regenerative and recreational “reserve.” Drawing on Serres and Tsing, this paper turns to the role played by reserve, this time understood as “stockpiles” and “surplus” in the double sense of “capital awaiting reinvestment” and “stored energy awaiting use,” in bringing us, ironically, to the no-exit planetary crisis that Serres describes as “having nothing left in reserve.” I argue that this brittleness ensues because the manipulation of temporal energy that begins, according to Andreas Malm, with the release of the stored energy of millennia of solar years in the form of coal mining and other kinds of fossil fuel extraction, forecloses another kind of relationship to temporal contingency and variability. In the second half of the paper, I turn to flower-like poems by Izumi Shikibu, John Clare and Emily Dickinson about flowers as fugitive temporal markers of solar presence. By turning to the example of lyric time, I hope to illuminate the contradictions defining the hourly consumption of fossil energies whose waste-products are imperishable.

Bio: Anne-Lise François teaches comparative literature and English at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Open Secrets: The Literature of Uncounted Experience (2008); her current book project is entitled “Provident Improvisers: Parables of Subsistence in the Time of Enclosures.” Rejecting the logic of scarcity that encloses time in storage- and surplus-economies, “Provident Improvisers” turns toward literary examples for counter-practices of the temporal, provisional, frugal, fugitive, and itinerant. Early drafts of some of the book chapters have appeared or are forthcoming as essays in Qui Parle, Minnesota Review, River of Fire: Commons, Crisis, and the Imagination, ed. Cal Winslow (Boston: Pumping Station Press) and Anthropocene Reading (ed. Tobias Menely, forthcoming with Penn State University Press).

Graeme Macdonald (University of Warwick)

“The New Oil Reality”, or Petroleum’s Returning Monsters

Despite unprecedented acknowledgement of the deleterious effects and predicted outcomes of ongoing carbonization, we remain in an age of enduring oil, in both senses of that verb. Industry insists on the necessity of maintaining global supply and opening new extractive frontiers; an insistence strategically mediated in the vocabulary and protocols of “realism” – in discourse and method. The emergence of petroculture as a trans-disciplinary critical practice has offered a counter-perspective to this industry-sponsored “realism,” partly by demonstrating its somewhat paradoxical associations with speculative cultural and economic forms and “fictive” forecasting. This paper will tease out the terms of this constitutive and epistemological struggle over oil’s projected future, specifically by using recent media and cultural representations from the maturing fields of the North Sea as a means to think through the future determinations of late petroleum and its anticipated warming effects. These cultural forms, I shall argue, are exemplars of the uses and abuses of realism as an aesthetic form and documentary method for processing climate crisis. I hope to show how their “weird” realism (or what has also been called “irrealism”) might help to open out a debate on the post-generic quality of speculative cultural forms. Despite their estranging intent, these retain a “realist” orientation, and do so despite emergent reservations about the exhaustion of non-realist approaches.

Bio: Dr. Graeme Macdonald recently edited a new edition of John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil (2015) and is currently preparing a monograph, Petrofiction: Oil and World Literature. He is a member of WreC (Warwick Research Collective), whose members work on new ways to think about World Literature/Literature in the World. They have published a co-written monograph on Peripheral Modernism and World Literature: Combined and Uneven Development: Toward a New Theory of World Literature (Liverpool University Press, 2015). He is at present Co-Investigator on the RSE Research Network, Connecting with a Low Carbon Scotland (2016-18).

Alessandra Ponte (Université de Montréal)

“Governing Climate”

In 1778, Jean-Baptiste Moheau, author of a research on the French population, stated: “It is up to the government to change the air temperature and to improve the climate. Giving direction to stagnant water, planting or burning down forests, mountains eroded by time or by the continual cultivation of their surface – all create a new soil and a new climate.” Michel Foucault cited Moheau’s text in the introductory address of his 1977-78 course on Security, Territory, Population at the Collège de France to explain the ‘irruption’ of the problem of inserting the ‘naturality’ of the human species (the population) into the artificial milieu of political relations of power. Between the end of the XVIII century and the beginning of the XIX, cartographic representations and utopic projects reflect the novel concern, identified by Foucault, of administering milieus. To investigate such shift in the formation of the modern state Foucault developed the concept of ‘governmentality’. The paper reexamines Foucault’s hypothesis in an attempt to resituate and redefine the current debate about climate change and its governance.

Bio: Alessandra Ponte is Full professor at the École d’architecture, Université de Montréal.  She has also taught at the schools of architecture of Princeton University, Cornell University, Pratt Institute New York, the ETH Zurich, and at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia. She has been adjunct professor at School of Design of Built Environment and Engineering, Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Australia), taught workshops in collaboration with the AA School London and the Catholic University of Santiago de Chile, and seminars at the University of Costa Rica. For the last eight years she has been responsible for the conception and organization of the Phyllis Lambert International Seminar, annual colloquia held at the Université de Montréal, addressing current topics in landscape and architecture. She curated the exhibition Total Environment: Montreal 1965-1975 (Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal, 2009) and collaborated to the exhibition and catalogue God & Co: François Dallegret Beyond the Bubble (with Laurent Stalder and Thomas Weaver, London: Architectural Association Publications, 2011). She has published extensively including recently a collection of essays on North American landscapes titled The House of Light and Entropy (London: AA Publications, 2014). She contributed to the Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale Architecture in 2014 (Arctic Adaptations) and 2016 (Extraction). From 2013 to 2016 she has been a member of the research group Future North a partnership between the School of Landscape and Urbanism AHO (Oslo) and the Barents Institute and she has recently been invited to collaborate to one of projects of the Office for Urbanization (Graduate School of Design, Harvard University) titled Landscape as Urbanism in the Americas.

Barbara Herrnstein Smith (Duke University)

"Perplexing Realities: Practicing Relativism in the Anthropocene"

Being realistic about climate change does not require an endorsement of what philosophers call “realism.” What it requires, among other things, is an ongoing recognition of both the multiplicity of realities—experiences, percepts, constructs, and cosmologies—and the possibility of their irreducible difference. Thus, with regard to clashing convictions and denials of anthropogenic global warming, we would do well to acknowledge not only the significance of conflicting material interests but also the existence and power of vested cognitive interests. Constructivist understandings of human cognition are especially useful here, inasmuch as they offer conceptually sophisticated, empirically grounded perspectives on the formation and stabilization of what we call (our) “knowledge” or (their) “beliefs.”

Bio:Barbara Herrnstein Smith is Braxton Craven Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and English at Duke University. Her publications include Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (1988); Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy (1997); Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth and the Human (2005); and Natural Reflections: Human Cognition at the Nexus of Science and Religion (2010).

Nicole Starosielski (New York University)

“Thermal Vision”

All matter emits heat and is transformed by it. In thermal vision, such heat exchanges are transduced into visual images. And in turn, thermal images are enfolded within larger apparati of temperature control intended to engineer particular kinds of movement through the world. This talk focuses on the ways that regimes of thermal control and perception are changing with digital technologies and the popularization of thermal imaging.

Bio: Nicole Starosielski is Assistant Professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. She is author of The Undersea Network (Duke University Press, 2015), which charts the development of transoceanic cable systems, beginning with the nineteenth-century telegraph network and extending to today’s fibre-optic infrastructure. She is also co-editor of Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructure (University of Illinois Press, 2015) and Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment (Routledge, 2016).

Michelle Ty (Clemson University)

“Realism’s Phantom Subjects”

This talk considers realism as it is split down the husk—referring, in philosophy, to the rejection of the proposed identity of reality and mind; and in art, to a mode of representation that affirms its mimetic tie to the world “as it is.” My inquiry begins by drawing into focus a curious aspect of modern philosophical realism—namely, that it establishes as “real” only that which can withstand my absence (where the me behind my is a hypothetical, universalizable subject of experience). I trace this conceit—of imagining the subject’s vanishing in order to deduce what is real—as it manifests across a range of media and genres: in Bertrand Russell’s refutation of idealism; in Virginia Woolf’s treatise against the mechanistic realism of Edwardian writers; and in Antonio López-Garcia’s painting “Lavabo y Espejo.” With this brief genealogy in place, the lecture goes on to argue that the aesthetic-philosophical conceit of the phantom subject re-appears, although newly aggrandized, in rhetorics of the Anthropocene, as well as in more recent “speculative” variations of philosophical realism. These investigations constitute an effort first, to show how early aesthetic and philosophical discourses of realism were already discourses of human extinction; and second, to ask how the primacy of the phantom subject introduces yet-to-be-acknowledged limitations, which determine how climate change is able to appear in the political imagination.

Bio: Michelle Ty is an Assistant Professor of English at Clemson University. She received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in Critical Theory and English.

Kyle Powys Whyte (Michigan State University)

“Indigenizing the Time, Memory and History of Climate Change”   

Anthropocene and climate change discourses often reflect assumptions about time, memory and history that privilege the last few hundred years of global colonial, capitalist and industrial expansion. Such temporalities (time, memory, history) parallel temporalities of U.S. and Canadian settler colonialism that erase vastly longer Indigenous peoples’ own conceptions of time, memory and history in North America. Indigenizing temporalities of climate change involves at least two movements. First, the current climate change ordeal fits within a larger, cyclical history, of Indigenous peoples adapting to environmental change – only now due to U.S. and Canadian colonialism. Indigenous knowledges refer to the knowledge systems developed explicitly through experiences of adapting to environmental change over millennia. Second, within the highly disruptive colonial, capitalist and industrial period, highly concentrated forms of domination engendered colonial ecologies. Colonial ecologies present immediate harms to Indigenous peoples, such as pollution or geographic removal, but also make way for industrial and capitalist expansion over Indigenous territories. Industrial and capitalist expansion drives today’s anthropogenic climate change ordeal, which Indigenous peoples will suffer through more than other populations, given they are on the front lines of many climate change impacts. Indigenizing climate change involves how expanding the historical perspective creates different interpretations of the highly disruptive colonial period and its relationship to anthropogenic climate change today. Indigenous peoples’ temporalities of climate change do not succumb to certain debates, such as whether or not to let certain species go extinct, and are rigorously structural in their approach to climate justice given Indigenous experiences with structures of colonial domination as both drivers of carbon-intensive economies and causes of heightened vulnerability. Indigenous temporalities are at once dystopian yet liberatory, giving rise to possibilities that are typically not envisioned in other global climate change discourses.

Bio: Dr. Kyle Powys Whyte holds the Timnick Chair in the Humanities at Michigan State University. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Community Sustainability, a faculty member of the Environmental Philosophy & Ethics graduate concentration, and a faculty affiliate of the American Indian Studies and Environmental Science & Policy programs. His primary research addresses moral and political issues concerning climate policy and Indigenous peoples and the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and climate science organizations. This research has recently extended to cover issues related to food sovereignty and justice. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. His articles have appeared in journals such as Climatic Change, Sustainability Science, Environmental Justice, Hypatia, Ecological Processes, Synthese, Human Ecology, Journal of Global Ethics, American Journal of Bioethics, Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics, Ethics, Policy & Environment, and Ethics & the Environment. Kyle’s work has been funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Climate Science Center, Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center, Mellon Foundation, Sustainable Michigan Endowed Program and Spencer Foundation. He serves on the U.S. Department of Interior’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science and the Board of Directors of the National Indian Youth Council. He is involved in the Climate and Traditional Knowledges Workgroup, Sustainable Development Institute of the College of Menominee Nation, Tribal Climate Camp, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Humanities for the Environment, and the Consortium for Socially Relevant Philosophy of/in Science. He is a recipient of the 2015 Bunyan Bryan Award for Academic Excellence given by Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.

Kathryn Yusoff (Queen Mary University London)

“Geologic Realism: Epochal Thoughts and the Terminal Beach of Geologic Time”

Geology is composed of a field of temporal markers that locate and sediment the narratives of the present, in which fossils serve as originary artifacts for stories of species and trajectories of the human in time and space. However, in the recent nomination of the Anthropocene, geology appears anew as a future-orientated practice (albeit one of negative possibility) that prompts concerns for fashioning alternative worlds and counter modes of fossilization. While the Anthropocene is problematic in all its assumptions about agency and might not be a proper name for this epoch, it does signal a threshold; namely, the demise of the stable material conditions of the Holocene that provided the context for Western thought. The Anthropocene is a name that opens up a speculative dimension to the figurations of planetary thought and material relations. In this speculative space, the very context of matter in which thought exists and takes hold is questioned. As the Anthropocene asks us to look at the rocky subsurface beneath our feet, and anthropogenic climate change bids us to look at the sky, one tells of the certainty of extinction, and the other offers a mutable heaven. Looking both ways along the axis of sky and ground, something has shifted in the way thought and materiality are tied together; something is out of joint and materially unbound, between a rock and a hard place in geologic time. The provocation of this new epoch may well be to demand an engagement with geologic realism and a confrontation with the abysmal dimensions of its horizons. Looking along the sightlines of this shifting planetary axis, along which thinking now has to occur, this paper addresses how aesthetics might be a way to navigate the complex dance of categories in the explication of geologic sense-matter.

Bio: Kathryn Yusoff is Reader in Human Geography at Queen Mary University of London. Her research focuses on geophilosophy, political aesthetics and the Anthropocene. She is currently writing a book on “Geologic Life.”

Confirmed Speakers:

Pierre Bélanger (Harvard University)
Amanda Boetzkes (University of Guelph)
Ingrid Diran (Pacific Northwest College of Art)
Anne-Lise François (University of California, Berkeley)
Barbara Herrnstein Smith (Duke University)
Graeme Macdonald (University of Warwick)
Alessandra Ponte (Université de Montréal)
Nicole Starosielski (New York University)
Antoine Traisnel (University of Michigan)
Michelle Ty (Clemson University)
Kyle Powys Whyte (Michigan State University)
Kathryn Yusoff (Queen Mary University of London)

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