This is the third in a series of posts in response to weekly readings from a seminar I am participating in called “The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene,” a critical and interdisciplinary seminar exploring ideas about being human on a changing planet.
“The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene Collaborative Research Seminar brings together faculty and graduate students from the humanities and environmental sciences to develop a theoretical framework for the environmental humanities and to examine possibilities for an integrated approach to the recent environmental turn in the humanities.”
The ecological devastation that we bear witness to during these times is difficult to come to terms with. The stakes of ecological conflict, as Beck points out, are losses and threats that do not distinguish neatly between perpetrators and victims. The nature and scale of these losses has made it challenging to hold any one source accountable, which has led to a dynamic of shifting blame, and claiming the lesser of evils on the parts of major players. These losses make us all, though unequally so, victims – and by “us” I mean all humans and non-humans living on the planet. Yet, many of us have trouble recognizing, confronting, and reconciling these losses. Authors this week use queer perspectives to come at a greater understanding of how to come to some sort of reconciliation.
Mortimer-Sandilands has called these ecological losses ungrievable within the current confines of society – ungrievable, because we are not accustomed to attending to relations beyond the human. Yet, she argues that there is grief at the very core of the modern age, which unprocessed, leads us to an internalized grief, or melancholia. I would also add that in this dominant American culture, grief has been pathologized and made into a sickness in itself. When losses are not able to be grieved properly, it becomes displacement (Mortimer-Sandilands). I would agree that this unprocessed grief is one of the major ills of our time – that we are surrounded by evidences of loss, but with few ways of actually experiencing it. Mortimer-Sandilands intimates that part of processing this grief involves dropping a romanticized nostalgia, and learning to love and praise even the wounded and devastated landscapes. This, she argues, is an ethical stance that resists fetishizing our losses and commodifying grief. This ethical stance, according to Mortimer-Sandilands involves active remembering of violence, and accepting the simultaneity of death and life.
Kier asks us to attend to these more-than-human relations in ways that recognize our shared fates that connect us across species boundaries, queering what it means to be human. Kier uses the reconfiguration of reproductive relationships into transgender, or transsex to look at these interconnected ecologies of human and non-human actors of relational reproductions. Like the protagonists in the article by Mortimer-Sandilands, forging these connections allows us to create a shared grief between humans and landscapes, humans and plants. On the other hand, Beck calls for accountability and recognition of the victims and perpetrators of these losses. Only when polluters begin to be responsible and offer compensation to victims (on local and global scales), will anonymity be broken. Beck highlights the need to question the types of lives we want to be living, and shift the academic focus from the horrors of the world toward directing accountability.,
These three authors take very different approaches to the problem of coming to reconcile with the ecological losses we are facing during the anthropocene. Kier’s forging of connections between humans and the ecology of non-human actors that support human reproduction is a good place to begin the work of grieving called for by Mortimer-Sandilands, which we can all participate in. Beck, however, is calling for more external solutions to direct blame and demand compensation for those who are marginalized in these global processes. All of these strategies may have their place in reconciliation, but I think part of the acceptance that Mortimer-Sandilands hints at is that there may be no way to neatly wrap this up, or to reach a conclusion, and that part of this process of grieving is learning to accept uncomfortable partialities and incomplete endings.
- Beck, Ulrich. Ecological Enlightenment: Essays on the Politics of the Risk Society. Trans. Mark A. Ritter. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, Ch. 1, “Politics in Risk Society,” pp. 1-18.
- Kier, Bailey. “Interdependent Ecological Transsex: Notes on Re/Production, ‘Transgender,’ Fish, and the Management of Populations, Species, and Resources.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 20, no. 3 (Nov. 2010): 299-319.
- Mortimer-Sandilands, Catriona. “Melancholy Natures, Queer Ecologies.” In Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, eds. Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010, Ch. 12, pp. 331-358.
- Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, CRIP. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 2013, “Introduction: Imagined Futures,” pp. 1-46, and Ch. 3, “Debating Feminist Futures: Slippery Slopes, Cultural Anxiety, and the Case of the Deaf Lesbians,” pp. 69-85.
- Anne-Lise Francois. “Shadow Boxing: Empty Blows and Practice Steps from Wordsworth to Benjamin;” and “Remarks at Workshop on Climate Change and its Challenges to the Scholarly Habitus,” Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, Dec. 12, 2015; “Poems for “Vulnerability and Damage,” Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene course, selections.