CENHS is glad to announce the release of a special issue of diacritics devoted to climate change criticism. The special issue is an important new intervention in the growing body of critical work on climate change, ecological catastrophe, and the idea of the Anthropocene. It contains essays from Srinivas Aravamudan, Frances Ferguson, Allan Stoekl, Vincent Bruyère, Richard Klein, and Timothy Morton. CENHS’s 2014 visiting research fellow, Professor Karen Pinkus, is the issue’s editor. The Romance Studies Department at Cornell, where Pinkus teaches, houses the journal. Pinkus is currently working on a book about fantasy fuels and the distinction between fuel and energy. I sat down with her to talk about the issue.
The diacritics climate change criticism issue marks the thirty-year anniversary of the 1984 nuclear criticism issue, which famously included Jacques Derrida’s essay “No Apocalypse, Not Now: Seven Missiles, Seven Missives.” Several of the essays refer back to that issue, discussing the difference between the anxiety of nuclear catastrophe and that of climate change. The current issue also includes essays from two of the original contributors to the nuclear criticism issue: Frances Ferguson and Richard Klein.
Dr. Pinkus contrasts the two regimes of catastrophe, nuclear and climate. She was an undergraduate at Cornell when the nuclear issue came out, and remembers the ever-present threat of nuclear war. It’s impossible to remember the terror now. When she heard about the issue then, she found it surprising that critics were writing about the topic. The nuclear regime was about an ever-present hypothetical; it hasn’t happened, it could happen any time. It’s about language, a subjunctive catastrophe. But the climate change regime has already happened. It’s pluperfect, beginning before the immediate past, since it was ongoing for so long before we were aware of it. But it’s at work in every tense, extending beyond the foreseeable future.
Climate change offers no event in the catastrophic mode of plague or detonation, which also puts it in a different temporality from that of the nuclear regime. There is no “post” moment for climate change, since climate change just is an ongoing lack of event. It gives good reason to avoid the proliferation of “posts” in critical writing.
If it’s difficult now to remember what the fear of nuclear catastrophe was like, it was impossible then to imagine the proliferation of (digital) images we see now. Pinkus asks what the proper image is for climate change criticism. The climate change issue includes photos by Bernard Yenelouis photos of the crumbling landscape of Detroit. Yenelouis’s’s photos are doubly appropriate for the issue, since Detroit has become emblematic of the feeling that the catastrophe has already arrived, but it is also ground zero for one of the strongest symbols of carbon-induced climate change: the automobile industry. At the same time, Pinkus reminds us that the car is an ambivalent symbol. Driving is a relatively minor source of atmospheric CO2.
Pinkus also mentioned that working on climate change has made her a stronger feminist. There is the matter of dealing continuously with questions of scientific and policy authority, where the subject position genders masculine. Pinkus is particularly critical of the survivalist fantasies that imagine a subject to persist and to observe after the extinction of humanity, like in Alan Wiseman’s The World without Us, or the film Life After People, where a male scientist voiceover narrates what will happen one, ten, or 100 years later. If the climate change regime doesn’t have an event, it seems we need continuously to invent one. This could be symptomatic of the imaginary mixture of different catastrophe regimes, as scenarios of sudden apocalypse are projected on the scene of climate change.
Pinkus made a compelling point about accessing articles through Project Muse whenever possible. I had not known that journals have a pay-per-click relationship with Project Muse, so that visiting the website to download an article supports the journal. Pinkus was happy to report that diacritics is doing quite well under this system. Logging on through your library to download articles, rather than circulating them through other means, helps keep journals solvent.
Long-time readers of diacritics will notice that the journal now has a new look, with different formatting, typography, and design.
Readers of the diacritics issue might also be interested in the CENHS research cluster on aesthetics and catastrophe. Led by Dr. Alexander Regier (Rice English), the cluster meets to discuss artists, writers, and theorists who address catastrophe of any kind. The cluster works, in one example, to develop useful distinctions among “catastrophe,” “disaster,” and “apocalypse”—to interpret the differences among those terms. Our most recent meeting was organized around a visit from Dr. Mary Favret (English, Indiana) and the curator Radhika Subramaniam (New School). The cluster also maintains a bibliography of catastrophe texts, and contributions are always welcome.