John Palattella - Earthly Anecdotes: an alternative to the doom-saying of our times
Very few among us can crawl or climb to the depths and heights of deep time... And so today, when there is no snow on the ground, I am thinking again about icebergs. Along with the work of Bishop, Stevens and several contemporary poets, I’ve often turned to Underland during the past year as an alternative to the doomsaying of our times. What these writers have taught me is that no matter the allure or elegance of its rhetoric, apocalyptic thinking is a poor way of understanding change. While change may bring a sense of urgency, neither change nor urgency, despite their difficulties, are inherently catastrophic. Denying us a backward glance, apocalypse leaves one unprepared to act in the face of uncertainty or danger....
The word often used to characterize the era of immense change to the environment caused by human activity is Anthropocene. Many books about the Anthropocene are a blend of manifesto and jeremiad, tinged with a furious or helpless dismay... Although he is acquainted with the questions raised by the Anthropocene, Macfarlane has not written an Anthropocene book in Underland. While accepting that the concept does issue “a powerful shock and challenge to our self-perception as a species,” he remains suspicious of its rhetoric. It “generalizes the blame for what is a situation of vastly uneven making,” he emphasizes, “while the designation of this epoch as ‘the age of man’ also seems like our crowning act of self-mythologization.”...
John Palattella - Earthly Anecdotes
The pandemic has changed lives, some more drastically than others. It has also left us looking for ways to comprehend the brute reality of mass death. During the early months of the pandemic, newspapers periodically compared the death toll from COVID-19 to the number of U.S. combat fatalities in Korea, Vietnam and World War II, which lent the pandemic an epic weight. Calling it an apocalypse does something similar. The word is derived from the Greek apokalypsis, which means to uncover or lay bare. (Its antonym, eukalyptós, means to cover or conceal.)
For all its terrifying overtones, the apocalyptic analogy is seductive because it purports to reveal the narrative of a life or society in crisis to be a cardinal point in time, a catharsis separating us from all that came before while simultaneously placing an ambiguous or chaotic present in a promising relationship to the future. As the novelist Joanna Scott has explained, the attraction of such an idea—especially when the surprise of catastrophe is matched by language that sounds utterly reassuring—is that “it offers its audience the special privilege of significance: no prior crisis in human history will compare with the coming upheaval.”...
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