The Anthropocene Across Time and Space

Student Blogpost by Annie Gala. Posted November 7th, 2017

In the recent symposium, “Genres of the Anthropocene,” I had the pleasure of listening to Anna Henchman and Sonya Posmentier speak on a panel entitled, “Scale, Time, and Justice,” which addressed, among other things, how we might conceptualize the passage of time on an environmental scale within the Anthropocene. What was most interesting to me in these two talks was how both speakers interpreted the issues of scale, time, and justice as functioning in an ecologically precarious era.

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The first speaker, Dr. Sonya Posmentier, discussed what I would typically think of when discussing the role of justice in the Anthropocene. She elaborated on how the language of the Black Lives Matter movement could be read as rhetoric that revealed the divisions within the Anthropos. Showing multiple signs from Black Lives Matter protests, Posmentier even showed how how nature plays a role into how oppressed groups see themselves in society. For example, Posmentier showed a photo of a protest sign that read: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” By using the rhetoric of growth and fertility, protesters are able to assert their strength and unity in the face of oppression.

The majority of Posmentier’s talk, however, focused on the research of Zora Neale Hurston, who studied the lyricism of a Florida Community following a hurricane. The hurricane, Posmentier asserts, mirrors lyric insofar as the storm reconfigures temporality and vibration into something like syncopated rhythm. Posmentier introduced songs by Sterling Brown, a 20th century poet and scholar, that conveyed the lyricism of hurricanes through music. Music, as Posmentier asserts, is one mode of collecting, rather than representing, the memories of communities. Through the narrative form of the collection, one is permitted a glimpse into the way nature performs displacement.

The talk of “Scale, Time, and Justice,” then shifted to Dr. Anna Henchman’s discussion of how change over time is represented in literature, both in relation to the Anthropos and geologically. Henchman proposed two specific ways that authors conceptualize change over time. The first, which she dubs “Synchrotopes,” is when authors use space as a physical anchor, showing how actions function in the same space, but across moments in time.  Another mode that Henchman cites as frequently used to convey change in time is the panorama. Henchman compared Panoramas to travelling on a railway journey, watching the landscape pass through the window. In the case of Panoramas, only time or space can be in motion, according to Henchman’s theories, which limits human perceptions of our surroundings.

Yet, in spite of the ways that the passage of time can be conveyed, most of these modes still imagine the present at the end or near the end of the time scale. Henchman thus questions,asks: when will we know what type of narrative we as humans in 2017 are in? At what point will our own narrative form be revealed to us – if ever? Is placing humans at the center of this time scale simply a narrative trick, or does it speak to the way in which we necessarily anthropomorphize time?

Both Dr. Posmentier and Dr. Henchman proposed compelling interpretations of how scale, time, and justice function in literature and culture. They offered drastically different ways to conceptualize time scales and physical space and apt critiques on how time and space are anthropomorphized by humans.

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Annie Gala is a second-year English Master’s student in English Literature at Georgetown University. Her research focuses primarily on Secondary English Education

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