Post-post Post

Although we have been working around, through, and with the term “post-anthropocene” for some months now, it still happens regularly that one of us asks: wait, why is our theme “post”-anthropocene again, instead of just “anthropocene”?

Although the prefix ‘post’ seems to specify a period after an event, it is rarely used to just indicate a historic period. Post-modernism, for example, is a critique, a way of thinking that did not so much come after modernism, as coincided with, responded to, and existed simultaneously with it. Postmodern architecture, too, does not proclaim the end of modernism, but uses it as inspiration, alongside other historical movements and buildings. It is impossible to draw a clear line between the two: they are entangled and sometimes even start to look the same. Post-truth politics similarly does not point at a period after truth but specifies a politics in which (reference to) truth is no longer primarily important. Post-capitalism is concerned with thinking of alternatives, acting on a situation in which capitalism has existed (and still does).

We use ‘post’ in ‘post-anthropocene’ in an attempt to acknowledge our condition, yet to think beyond, around and through it: to find ways to act after the (continuing) event of The Anthropocene. This geological epoch, declared in 2016 by the International Geological Congress, acknowledges the tremendous and often irreversible effects that humans have on (life on) planet Earth.

We are in it. We’re implicated, entangled, situated, up to our necks and muddling through. In fact, the geographers who proclaim this new epoch, say that we have been living in the anthropocene since the 1950s. For most of us, that means that we have been ‘in it’  for all our lives. To think that we could jump beyond this situation, and start something new altogether, would be absurd. Like post-colonialism does not deny that the past and present implications of colonialism, we do not proclaim that we are ‘past’ the anthropocene (‘the anthropocene – that was so 2016’).

The anthropocene has been proclaimed a historical and scientific fact, but to us it is a matter of concern. Even if it’s called a ‘geological epoch’, we still need ways to think and act. It is not distant but enmeshed with our everyday lives, our everyday ecologies. With this prefix ‘post’ we look for ways to go about ‘in catastrophic times’*.

*Borrowing this phrase from Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times (pdf)

The Guardian on the declaration of the Anthropocene (link)

Bruno Latour on Matters of Concern (pdf)

Also worth the read, a recent interview with Bruno Latour in the New York Times (on post-truth, among other things) (link)

On the prefix ‘post’ (in Dutch) (link)

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