Nature in the Anthropocene: old vs. new vs. none, or, art

A few interesting pieces have come out recently on what to make of the Anthropocene and, in specific, what to do with “nature.”

Martin Mahoney gives an introduction to the Anthropocene, and then an overview of the way Bruno Latour has been approaching the topic. Latour, as you might expect, would like the old concept of ‘nature’ to fade from view and to be replaced by a networked approach that sees the human-earth relationship as caught up with the institutions of science, religion, and social pathways through which agency is recognized and distributed.

By contrast, Jim Proctor has recently remarked that the Anthropocene is a battle between two ways of counting. One in which humans are a part of “nature” and one in which we are not. In his view, we can only count to two. Count to “one” and you are of the ilk that wants to merge “nature” and “culture” while, if you count to “two” you prefer to keep them distinct. The piece reviews a few new books on the topic – I haven’t read all of them so it is hard to say whether they fit his rendering so tidily.

Finally, the L.A. Review of Books has a piece on the Art of life in the Anthropocene. It is an interesting set of ruminations spanning “geology to biology” and focusing on the recombinant interactions of things that confuse notions that ‘natural’ beauty or even artful mediums are set against something else. An interesting play on notions of going beyond or of ‘overcoming.’

So, all in all, have your Anthropocene as you like it. And, as the contests over how to understand this era of transition emerge, enjoy or disparage the new appropriations (and their corollary dissent from) of old ideas into new understandings.