What ‘The Anthropocene’ Can Learn from ‘The Animal’

02/14/2020 - 2:00pm
Willy T. Young Library Auditorium
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s): 
Cary Wolfe, Professor, Dept of English, Rice Universitynglish, Rice University

In retrospect, "the question of the animal" seems to have been left in the dust--all too predictably--by the economy of planned obsolescence in academic knowledge production and theory. As Niklas Luhmann pointed out long ago, the autopoiesis of the disciplines depends upon the ceaseless production of novelty. "The Animal" needed to be replaced, as quickly as possible, by Plants, then Plants by Stones, then Stones by the Object more generally, and finally by a more general "materialism" and "realism." Most recently, under the spur of rapid global warming, the discourse of the Anthropocene has become the site upon which all of these elements are reshuffled and reassembled.  This talk will engage Bruno Latour's Facing Gaia in this context, with its admirable desire to assert the "outlaw" character of Gaia as a stay against both holism and humanism. But what the site of "the Animal" shows is Latour's own Actor Network Theory evacuates the radical discontinuity between qualitatively different orders of causation that obtain in living versus physical systems--different orders that are fundamental, of course, to the evolution of the biosphere and the planet.

Cary Wolfe’s most recent projects are Ecological Poetics, or, Wallace Stevens’s Birds (Chicago, forthcoming March, 2020) and a special issue of the journal Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, on “Ontogenesis Beyond Complexity” (forthcoming 2020), focused on the work of the multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional Ontogenetics Process Group. His books and edited collections include Animal Rites: American CultureThe Discourse of Speciesand Posthumanist Theory (Chicago, 2003), the edited collections Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minnesota, 2003) What Is Posthumanism? (Minnesota, 2010), and Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame (Chicago, 2012). He is founding editor of the series Posthumanities at the University of Minnesota Press and currently holds the Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Chair in English at Rice University, where he is Founding Director of 3CT: The Center for Critical and Cultural Theory.


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