[Editor’s Note: due to privacy settings, you’ll need to click through to view the video. Please do, it’s very worth watching.]
“To be a one at all you must be a many and that’s not a metaphor.”
Haraway gave a talk called “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Cthulucene: Staying With the Trouble” earlier this year at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus. The lecture not only dismantles why the Anthropocene may be problematic as a term — it also p0ses some other possibilities for what the epoch we may be living in might be more effectively be called. Rather than characterize now by merely the figure of the human, Haraway suggests we should consider Capital and Cthulhu.
“It matters to destabilize worlds of thinking with other worlds of thinking.”
During the lecture, Haraway invokes Hannah Arendt, Virginia Woolf, Urusula K. Le Guin, and others. Perhaps, the most interesting part of the discussion is this thought that not only is the figure of the anthro- but it might be an object that we think of as a product of ourselves. Haraway proposes that the current epoch, that has irrevocably changed the world for “everyone and forever” is the Capitalocene, because it is distinctly characterized by the capitalization of resources as fast as possible.
Haraway implies that the human did not necessarily cause this mass-extinction or global warming, but capital did. And that means that we need to see the epoch starting at some point before the invention of the internal combustion engine. According to Harraway, the true starting point would be somewhere in the human past, not the deep past, where markets, trade routes, and the economical metabolisms of the world were initiated.
But there’s something far stranger: The Cthulhucene. Haraway approaches a definition of the cthonic epoch by talking about the impossibility of existing as an individual – existing is far stranger than a bunch of monads wandering around and interacting. No, this epoch is defined by the frightening weirdness of being impossibly bound up with other organisms. She says, “complexity is impossible without infection.” This recalls Tim Morton’s concept of the “strange stranger.” Even the self is infinitely strange. The identity of an individual is amorphous, porous, and liminal. There’s never a clear point at which a being begins or ends, and that’s why we are all lichens: a being made up of multiple separate symbiotic organisms.
Haraway says, “The activation of the chthonic powers that is within our grasp to collect up the trash of the anthropocene, and the exterminism of the capitalocene, to something that might possibly have a chance of ongoing.”
What might this mean or be? I think the Cthulhucene could be equally appropriate for the era of combustion, nuclear weaponry, global warming, or what Morton terms Hyperobjects. The Cthuhlucene is also invoked indirectly in the Cyclonopedia by Reza Negrastani: what Donna Haraway calls “fossil making man burning fossils as fast as he can,” is also under the cthonic sway of alien oil, and its dark agenda. This is one of the things that I think may have to define the Cthulhucene: that objects and hyperobjects may not only be ineffable to humans, but also have strange objectives. Objects like capitalism catapult us toward the capitalization of all resources and the concentration of wealth. Oil launches us into space and into an unknowable future where it might be very difficult for our species to continue. These objects aren’t acting alone, but that much is obvious because there is no alone. Just like there are more bacteria cells in our own bodies, than there are “human” cells, there are many parts that go into creating these large scale objects.
We’ve all always been lichens.
This talk was part of a conference by AURA, the Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene. The conference was called “Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet.” There are plenty of other talks worth watching, including the keynote by Ursula K. LeGuin.