Maybe it’s because I’m not the most “artsy” person in the world, but I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around Aaron Czerny’s “Navigating the Anthropocene” performance. Maybe it’s that I don’t go to a lot of art shows, but it was definitely nothing like what I had ever experienced before.
I also thought it was interesting how he offered up very little explanation about what he had had us do, and yet there were so much going on in the presentation that I felt like I missed so much even though the presentation itself was over an hour. My interpretation for his performance is this: We each read our poems out as a representation of how the Anthropocene makes up each of our individual stories, combined into one epoch. I’m assuming that the imaginary “boat” he had us all step in was connected to his most recent work, Ünark the Transmigrator. When he explained his vision of the Ünark, he said that it was supposed to represent the end of the Anthropocene and humanity as we know it and how there’s no way to know exactly what will be carried on in our legacy- which languages, what technology, etc. One interesting aspect of his piece, Ünark, that stood out to me was the parachute in the boat, when clearly a parachute could never help a sinking boat.
Bringing it back to this idea of “Looking at the present through the future”, I believe Aaron’s piece was a very good way to jump-start this discussion. It’s a radical concept, at least for me: examining and imagining what our mark as a species will be on this planet in the future when we’re no longer there. It shouldn’t be so radical, as the extinction of species is necessary for the uprising of new ones, but humans like to put our species on a
pedestal above all others and act as if we are somehow unique to the natural progression of life and the Earth. In my environmental science class, we discuss a lot about the carrying capacity for our species on this planet and how some make the argument that we’ve reached the capacity, while others argue that we’re nearly there. Very few scientists dare to make the claim that we’re far from reaching our carrying capacity. An interesting fact about the human species is that we have a lot of the traits of an K-selected species (We have a high age of maturity, we only have a few young at a time, we live a relatively long time, etc.), and yet our population isn’t increasing like one. Our rate of population growth is representative of a r-selected species (things like bacteria, bugs, viruses), so we’re growing way faster than we should be. The interesting thing about r-selected population growth is it’s characterized by huge spikes in population, followed by crashes when the population reaches its carrying capacity too fast (i.e. the ecosystem no longer has the resources to support it, so the entire population is wiped out.) My question is… if we’re so close to our carrying capacity and we operate like an r-selected species, how long until we see our giant crash?
The Margaret Atwood reading, “Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet” was eerie because in this age of capitalism, we’ve already placed the pursuit of money above all else, thus we’ve already reached the “Third Age”, or possibly surpassed it. Even in Atwood’s description of the Fourth Age, the “age of deserts”, I saw a lot of our own personality. I love reading texts like this through a sociological lens because that’s so much of what it means to be a sociologist. I remember being in Intro to Sociology and my professor told me the definition of Sociology as a field of study: “Making the familiar strange”. That’s exactly what Atwood does in this piece through describing a far-off planet, though one can quickly realizes that the planet she refers to is our own.
What makes this type of writing so impactful is that the reader is always more open to reading about the horrible occurrences in another’s story than in their own. She draws us in with visions of a wretched people who’ve caused their own demise and we becoming the oblivious patronizers of these people. Then eventually, it becomes apparent that the planet is our own and thus we must be those wretched people. The only reason i focus on this piece as opposed to the others is because I found it to be the most easily understood (probably because the audience was the general public, rather than scholars and anthropologists.
While I appreciate the long descriptions with the fancy vocabulary that requires the reader to have dictionary.com open the entire time you’re reading, the simplicity in short poems like this one gives it a more admirable quality and allows the reader to focus and contemplate more on the hidden agendas behind the text. I liked that the World We Made excerpts inserted the reader into a fictional biography, but I will admit that the copied version made a few of the pages difficult to read, and toward the end, I just got discouraged and gave up on completing the story, even though it was captivating at the beginning during the parts that I could read.