Catastrophic History: Learning to Die

Another thinky-piece. No interventions needed, I promise. But here’s another look at catastrophe as an all-consuming feature of the modern condition. If one purpose of philosophical helps us to examine how to die, then Roy Scranton—in his recent book, Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene—argues that this new environmental condition means we need to start thinking about how to die not as individuals but as a civilization. Then I think about Herman Hesse. I don’t get out much, but I’m sure I’d be great at parties.

Incidentally, in addition to his short book above, also check out Scranton’s War Porn, which is also fabulous in a brutally stark kind of way. Maybe not for the faint of heart, but very, very compelling.

Catastrophe: The Decay of Intellect

Happy Monday!

Here’s a little audio clip from Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street and Other Writings (as quoted in Andreas Malm’s Fossil Capital). Just to start the week on a positive note.

I’m thinking about Benjamin’s work more and more as I prep new ideas for a course on Catastrophic History (HIST 3CH3). I’m fascinated with his obsession with catastrophe, but also how it was prominent throughout many of the writings of other thinkers of the same kind of time. Hannah Arendt and Günther Anders, for example. More anon, but this serves as the backdrop for much of the preparation for the course. Which isn’t to say that this will be a course heavily driven by intellectual history (from the students’ perspective: probably not), but I’m interested to see if we can revisit some of these older ideas, and brush them off for the twenty-first century. I suspect we think (or should think, or need to think) about catastrophe rather differently. We should investigate that. And consider how it shapes our histories.

Catastrophic History

A little audio plug for HIST 3CH3 (Catastrophic History), a new course on offer at McMaster University in January 2017. I’m excited about this new venture—and imagining new conduits for student discovery throughout the course. For McMaster students: there are still some spots available.

Toxic Fear in America—The Slidecast

At the end of March, I attended the American Society for Environmental History annual meeting in Seattle, WA. I gave a slightly shorter and more coherent version of this talk. It’s basically an overview of the project as a whole, which comes with the advantages of trying to map out bigger themes, but the disadvantages of feeling a little too vague and general. I’d like to think there’s more narrative force and structure in the manuscript. I’ve been meaning to convert the talk to slidecast for some time (I get my students to do these fairly regularly, so it seemed only right for me to try to struggle with the format—I need to work on it).