Anthropocene is too anthropocentric – it suffices, of course, since by the very designation we are declaring anthropos as geological agent. But just as earth itself is an active agent (we humans aren’t just the only actors on a global scale), equally there is a lot of action in outer space. Anthropocene may be too terrestrial bound.
While we are all ‘down’ here talking about the anthropocene – or the merger between geology and the human hubris, the latter becoming a geological agent – ‘up’ there in the cosmos we are more or less blind.We can barely see the geology of space coming at us. Especially we need to begin looking ‘up’ at the geology of outer space just as much as the geology ‘down’ here; indeed, the ‘up there’ is in need of urgent attention.
My point is that we need more catastrophism.
While we are busy here on planet earth talking about climate science, which is of course itself a huge deal and needs to be taken absolutely seriously, we must also connect the probable encounters between earth and cosmic debris.
“The great majority (70%) of these events [of extraterrestrial origin, as impacts ranging more than 500 hundred in the last 10,000 years] have been of the Tunguska-type class of atmospheric impacts with an average yield of between 20 and 100 Mt TNT. However, more than 100 surface impacts, including more than a dozen oceanic impacts, are believed to have repeatedly devastated whole regions, small countries and early civilizations around the globe.”
– Randall Carlson, quoting Dr Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University
Let us just think about what 20- 1oo Mt TNT would look like. Now, the largest bomb dropped in test during the cold war was something like 16 Mt. Such figures should give us a wake up call but they really don’t. It is the same with climate science: we can have all the data we want and meanwhile we go through our day to day activity by all sorts of actions ignoring the problem. In our age we are reaching a level of technology where we could be building apparatuses in which to ‘see them coming’ but we aren’t, and the ones that we do have are massively under-funded.
I am not only a catastrophist because I consider geology as the mover of human history here on earth, but because extraterrestrial activities are potential agencies in determining the rise and fall of civilizations. While we are thinking anthropocene or while we are thinking geohistory, we need to not only be thinking of human history and its distribution across the topology of terrestrial geology: we need a simultaneous consideration of how increased cosmic activity may be associated with our (human) history – its onset, the ebb and flows of our societies, and even initiating collapses, etc.
Today all it would take is a meager event (‘meager’ relatively speaking) and it could knock out all of our technologies or cover the atmosphere for a series of years, leading to the failure of agriculture (which is the infrastructure of everything). Of course imagining down this rabbit hole of catastrophe could drive one a bit crazy – it could be tomorrow, it could be 10,000 years from now. We really don’t know. (And moreover, if these agencies are coming from the position of the sun, we are completely blind). But either way it is immensely juvenile of us to have the knowledge we have accumulated at present and ignore it, even if it resides at an undetermined date. The more we can give attention to this and invent technologies that can confront it the more that undetermined time shrinks. But the juvenile doesn’t surprise me because our entire civilization is juvenile: our cultural models are built on the up-to-date consumption, just as it is with art-to-be-thrown-away, and of the next fiscal gain in the next quarter, and not in any consideration of long-term survival. And what is NASA’s budget in all of this? – barely anything: it isn’t even enough yearly to run a corporate death-burger chain restaurant. What other word could we use to describe this except for immaturity?
Some of the work I am currently creating (which will be unveiled this Spring) traces back through impact events of the past by grafting them upon the forms, gestures and images of the present. You could call it Catastrophist Art. This not only includes the human-made catastrophes or even mini-catastrophes like the megaton nuclear bomb explosions, but also the plunging cosmic activity. I want to look back upon the history of geology and grab dates and times and inject them upon the ground-zero of art…More to come on this.
Maybe we should be going back through geohistory, for example to scrutinize the Holocene (since the end of the last ice age) or maybe even the trigger to the inception of this scene itself, in order to get a better picture of the numbers of cosmic agencies that have influenced human history? Or perhaps history is older than we even think it is and something absolutely massive disrupted it, sending us back to the subsistence survival and wiping out our memories? That is a possibility. If we were able to conceive this catastrophic geohistory in our imaginations then it could give us better footing to conceive of what may be down the line. That is, if we don’t destroy ourselves first – that is also a variable in this catastrophist equation.
Our earth is part of a larger system. There is not only the environment ‘down’ here but also a cosmic environment. Our frame of thinking must not be terrestrially bound but often I think that perhaps the ‘anthropocene’ suggests this. Perhaps it doesn’t always suggest this but the term is problematic in this regard. We are earthbound but we are floating in a billiards room, to steal a snippet from Carl Sagan.
We artists are living in an age just as radical as that age that saw the invention of perspective: we can now see underground and we can see into outer space. As far as visual information that may inform artistic culture this is unprecedented and it is just beginning. The consequences of these new arenas of vision are yet to be known, but if we would compare it to the invention of perspective then just look at all of what flowed out of that spatial illuionism: not only ‘realistic’ spatial depiction, but also ballistic science and the colonization of territory – the entire Occidental history would’ve been different if this vision-machine was never invented. And now we have new vision-machines the consequences of which we don’t know. I think we ought to be using them to expand the horizons of our imaginations.
It would be a pity to neglect what is above our heads for what is under our feet, and instead one ought to have a sensation of what is above and what is below simultaneously. Hence the old phrase, as above so below. Maybe this phrase needs to be brought into our imagining the anthropocene?