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Cultures of Energy

Cultures of Energy brings writers, artists and scholars together to talk, think and feel their way into the Anthropocene. We cover serious issues like climate change, species extinction and energy transition. But we also try to confront seemingly huge and insurmountable problems with insight, creativity and laughter. We believe in the possibility of personal and cultural change. And we believe that the arts and humanities can help guide us toward a more sustainable future. Cultures of Energy is sponsored by Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS, pronounced ‘sense’). Join the conversation on Twitter @cenhs and on the web at culturesofenergy.com
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Nov 10, 2016

Cymene and Dominic share honest thoughts from the morning after the morning after. Then, because we all need a new superhero right about now, (27:07) Beth Povinelli of Columbia anthropology fame joins us for a conversation that riotously veers between serious philosophical discussion and Scooby Doo. Our dreaming is Beth’s latest work, Geontologies: A Requiem for Late Liberalism (Duke U Press, 2016). She explains what she means by “geontopower,” how it challenges our common biontological distinction between life and non-life, and why she is not arguing for a new metaphysics of power or objects. We talk about how Anthropocene conditions may have made geontopower more visible to some, but how it has been felt for a long time in places on the fringes of settler colonialism like the aboriginal community of Belyuen where Beth has been doing fieldwork for decades. She explains the three figures of geontological discourse and governance—the desert (nonlife is encroaching into life), the animist (everything is life anyway) and the virus (the tactical use of both life and nonlife that yet has unexpected outcomes)—and how they connect to late liberalism more generally. Beth then shares her concerns about contemporary philosophical movements like speculative realism and object-oriented ontology and explains why her intervention isn’t part of any “ontological turn” but rather a contribution to the revelation that our northern metaphysics of being are deeply biontological and epidermal, part of a love affair with the concept of life and its difference from non-life. So Geontologies means to offer a monstrous twist to that tradition. Turning back to Belyuen, Beth explains how Karrabing analytics offer by comparison probative epistemics, a testing of the world, rather than a bounded “belief system” or “body of knowledge” as normally construed. Karrabing analytics say that all forms of existence have extimate material relations to one another and illuminate how settlers prize the tight integrity of their bodies and overdramatize their lives and deaths as absolute beginnings and ends. In the end Beth explains that she’s not saying, and we quote, “Screw life. Who gives a fuck. I like rocks”—but rather underscoring the point that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine other modes of existence becoming dominant.

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