This is the first of two “Bedtime Stories” podcasts that use the 1927 Mississippi Flood as their departure point. As I was starting to work on this podcast, I was also preparing to teach my catastrophic history course for the first time. I was also racing through multiple histories of the blues at the same time. Around that time, one of these interests stumbled upon Susan Scott Parrish’s imminently forthcoming book, The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History. I ordered it immediately. And started reading as soon as it arrived. The reading was a happy balance of work and pleasure: I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but justified it as “work.” I summoned up the courage to e-mail Parrish and ask if she might be willing to submit to an interview on the book.
Susan Scott Parrish is a Professor in the Department of English and the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan. The Flood Year 1927 is a marvellous combination of literary analysis and environmental history.
This week is Günther Anders week on the “Bedtime Stories” podcast. Anders might be little known amongst environmental historians, but he is arguably one of the most important catastrophic thinkers of the twentieth century, and would reward some study. I came across Anders’s work while reading Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s work on “enlightened catastrophism,” and was immediately hooked. There is a moving lucidity in his writing when it comes to catastrophe. His correspondence with Claude Eatherly is particularly powerful as an introduction, but there are bits and pieces of his work that have been translated. I have referred to Anders a few times on this blog (start here and here and here). But the truth is that the bulk of his work has not yet been translated into English, which is a shame.
Which is not to say that Anders’s work has received any attention from English-speaking scholars. Looking for more access to Anders and his writing on catastrophe, I discovered Jason Dawsey’s PhD dissertation, “The Limits of the Human in the Age of Technological Revolution: Günther Anders, Post-Marxism, and the Emergence of Technology Critique.” The discussion below is another result of a cold call to a gracious colleague I’d not met before. It serves as a terrific introduction to Anders’s work and thinking. Dawsey is an historian at the University of Tennessee, and the editor, with Günther Bischof and Bernhard Fetz, of The Life and Work of Günther Anders: Émigré, Iconoclast, Philosopher, Man of Letters (Transatlantica Series, Volume 8). (Review here).
Next week: 17 October: “Convergence: Climate, Capitalism, Catastrophe” (with Andreas Malm)
How we engage with catastrophe has to show up in our social and cultural fears, anxieties, paranoias, and uncertainties. What scares us and how—and that things scare us—are a fundamental aspect of history. More on this in more detail, as I limp towards completion of my manuscript on toxic fear. But thinking more broadly about fears, and fears of the unknown, and unknown fears (fears we didn’t know we had?), these stories and imaginations probably shape a good deal of our histories. And we should acknowledge that. And, back to the catastrophic, it might help us to read more deeply into our cultural histories of fear—and how the catastrophic functions within the modern human condition. Below is another sound stub, linking three pieces of writing that resonated or helped draw on implicit connections that might not be there, but encouraged me to dig deeper into ideas about the uncertainties surrounding the abyss, the unknown, where catastrophe might lurk.
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.