Making the Geologic Now
by Adam Robbert
In the 1870s Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani made a radical argument: we can no longer justifiably call our geological age the Holocene. Instead, Stoppani argued, geologists must concede that human behavior had caused enough radical change in the functioning of the Earth to warrant the naming of a new era. He suggested the term “Anthropozoic” to describe this new world. The name did not stick. But in the year 2000 something similar happened with quite different results. Dutch Chemist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen began to publicly admonish his colleagues use of the word “Holocene.” Again, Crutzen argued that humans had caused enough change to the Earth’s geological systems to warrant a new epoch. He called it the “Anthropocene.” This time the notion struck the scientific community with greater weight, and Cutzen published a paper on the idea in a 2002 issue of the journal Nature. Where Stoppani’s colleagues had found the idea of the “Anthropozoic” unscientific Crutzen’s were willing to investigate. Since then the Anthropocene has become an increasingly used term to describe the intersection of human behavior with the deep structures of the Earth’s evolving dynamics.
This history forms the context within which Making the Geologic Now, a new volume from Punctum Press, begins its investigations. The book itself looks like a hybrid entity — think of an issue of Adbusters magazine (though less threatening) or McLuhan’s War and Peace in the Global Village (though with broader range) and you’ll have a feel for the form of this text. The aesthetic is overwhelming at times, but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. This is after all a text about all things earthly, and in the Anthropocene that means a multimedia object about a “teeming assemblage of exchange and interaction among the bio, geo, cosmo, socio, political, economic, strategic, and imaginary” (23). While cluttered in places the volume is nevertheless an attractive enactment of the ideas it presents, and it doesn’t hurt that the book merges with an online presence of the same name (geologicnow.com). Like other Punctum books this one is also available as a free download and a purchasable hardcopy.
As Jane Bennett notes in her afterward to the volume, the essays, images, and artifacts found in the text form “speculative devices” of a sort by which we might better tune towards the geologic as a condition or medium within which human thinking and practice must be understood. The Anthropocene, Bennett tacitly suggests, implies “a certain convergence between two styles of temporality that we had formerly thought were distinct” (244). Bennett is referring to the intersection of geological deep time with that of human historical time. The book is thus aiming to enact cognitive shifts in human thinking and practice so as to “make monumentally slow change palpable” (20) suggesting that thinking the geologic is a difficult but conditional task for our present time. The editors write: “By making a geologic turn, we direct sensory, linguistic, and imaginative attention toward the material vitality of the earth itself” (25).
I’m looking forward to continuing to engage with this text and its more than forty or so entries (I’ve only gotten through a handful of them myself), and to joining the writers in asking, “What might become thinkable and possible, if we humans were to collectively take up the geologic as our instructive co-designer — as our partner in designing thoughts, objects, systems, and experiences?” (18) While I don’t have a straightforward answer to the question what’s clear to me already is that, much like other works in this genre such as Bennett’s Vibrant Matter or Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, this text presents complex ideas in a form and style that will be appealing to a variety of audiences: academics and non-academics, undergraduates and senior Ph.D. candidates, or even designers, architects, engineers, policy makers, and artists.