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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Term Anthropocene

  • Timothy Morton (a1)
Abstract

Not a day goes by in the 2010s without some humanities scholars becoming quite exercised about the term Anthropocene. In case we need reminding, Anthropocene names the geological period starting in the later eighteenth century when, after the invention of the steam engine, humans began to deposit layers of carbon in Earth’s crust. Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer’s term has been current since 2000.1 In 1945, there occurred “The Great Acceleration,” a huge data spike in the graph of human involvement in Earth systems. (The title’s Kubrick joke stems from the crustal deposition of radioactive materials since 1945.) Like Marx, Crutzen sees the steam engine as iconic. As this is written, geologists such as Jan Zalasiewicz are convincing the Royal Society of Geologists to make the term official.

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Timothy Morton is Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University. He gave the Wellek Lectures in theory at University of California–Irvine in 2014. He is the author of Hyperobjects, The Ecological Thought, Ecology without Nature, nine other books, and one hundred essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food, and music.

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1 Crutzen, Paul and Stoermer, Eugene, “The Anthropocene,” Global Change Newsletter 41.1 (2000): 1718.

2 Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Random House, 1994), 387.

3 I refer to the action performed by the government of the Maldives in 2009.

4 I call such entities hyperobjects. Morton, Timothy, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

5 Meillassoux, Quentin, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (New York: Continuum, 2009), 5.

6 Morton, Timothy, Dark Ecology (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

7 Derrida, Jacques, “Violence and Metaphysics,Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), 79153.

8 Diamond, Jared, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” Discover Magazine (May 1987), 6466. Parfit, Derek, Reasons and Persons (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 381390, 419–441.

9 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,Critical Inquiry 35 (Winter 2009): 197222.

10 Meillassoux and Ray Brassier hold this position.

11 Darwin, Charles, The Origin of Species, ed. Gillian Beer (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 160.

12 Derrida, Jacques, “Hostipitality,” Angelaki, trans. Barry Stocker with Forbes Matlock, 5.3 (December 2000): 318; Morton, Timothy, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 1415, 17–19, 38–50.

13 Gillian Beer, “Introduction,” in Darwin, The Origin of Species, vii–xxviii (xxvii–xviii).

14 Street, Sesame, “We Are All Earthlings,Sesame Street Platinum All-Time Favorites (Sony, 1995); USA for Africa, “We Are the World” (Columbia, 1985).

15 See for instance Robinson, Kim Stanley, Red Mars (New York: Random House, 1993); Green Mars (New York: Random House, 1995); Blue Mars (New York: Random House, 1997).

16 Carroll, Lewis, Alice Through the Looking Glass in The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, ed. Martin Gardner (New York: Norton, 2000), 187.

17 Lovelock, James, The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 67, my paraphrase.

18 Oxford English Dictionary, weird, adj. www.oed.com, accessed April 9, 2014.

19 Morton, , Hyperobjects, 134158.

20 See for instance Aaron O’Connell et al., “Quantum Ground State and Single Phonon Control of a Mechanical Ground Resonator,” Nature 464 (March 17, 2010): 697–703.

21 Jan Zalasiewicz, presentation at “History and Politics of the Anthropocene,” University of Chicago, May 2013.

Timothy Morton is Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University. He gave the Wellek Lectures in theory at University of California–Irvine in 2014. He is the author of Hyperobjects, The Ecological Thought, Ecology without Nature, nine other books, and one hundred essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food, and music.

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