Climate Change and the Apocalyptic Image of Time
About the talk
The prospect of climate disruption haunts contemporary culture and political debate today in a way that no environmental threat has before, and it is commonplace to hear climate change identified as the single most important challenge facing humanity. Is this prioritization of climate destabilization as the defining threat of recorded human history justified? Here I investigate the image of time underlying this apocalyptic narrative to show that it depends upon, and attempts to manage, the explosion of our horizons of time represented by “deep” geological timescales.
On this basis, I explore a series of questions posed by such apocalyptic narratives: Does this image of time exhaust our possibilities for relating to the sublime dimensions of the deep past and far future? Does it skew our relation to the present? What investments or fears are expressed through this apocalyptic image, and what does it reveal about our responsiveness to and responsibility for the past, present, and future? I argue that, rather than owning our temporal responsibilities, apocalyptic narratives seek to liquidate our obligations to the past, obscure the singularity of the present, and exert absolute control over the future. I conclude with two alternative figures of temporal justice: Potawatomi philosopher Kyle Powys Whyte’s proposal of “time spiraling” as a living dialogue with our ancestors and descendants, and artist Roni Horn’s installation, Library of Water, in Stykkishólmur, Iceland.
About the speaker
Ted Toadvine, Nancy Tuana Director of the Rock Ethics Institute and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Penn State, specializes in the philosophy of nature and environment and contemporary European philosophy, especially phenomenology and post-structuralism. He is the author of Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy of Nature (Northwestern, 2008), and editor or translator of six books, including The Merleau-Ponty Reader and Eco-Phenomenology: Back to the Earth Itself. Toadvine is editor of the journal Environmental Philosophy, co-editor of Chiasmi International, and co-director of Springer's Contributions to Phenomenology Series. His current research explores the philosophical and ethical significance of deep time, the apocalyptic imaginary of environmentalism, the relation between geomateriality and memory, and biodiacritics. These themes are treated in two current book projects, Nature after Naturalism: Ontology, Animality, and Memory and The End of All Things: Eschatology and the Elements.