Seminar CFP: "Our Everyday Planet, or The Banality of Environmental Evil"

Melissa Ragain Discussion

Please consider submitting a proposal for the "seminar" that we will be hosting at this year's meeting of the Association for the Study of Arts of the Present. The conference will take place 26-28 October in Oakland, CA. 

"Our Everyday Planet, or The Banality of Environmental Evil"

Eco-criticism has in the last ten years been grappling with problems of massive scale. Concepts like the “hyperobject” refer to spans of space and time that encompass entire systems of interconnectivity, while the quantity of data to be analyzed threatens to engulf environmentalists in an “infowhelm.” Such sublime grandeur helps to conceptualize the magnitude of the problems with which climate researchers contend, while combating right-wing efforts to raise doubts about global warming by demonstrating the complexity and thoroughness of available data. At the same time, these large-scale ways of understanding ecological crisis distance it from the everyday ways in which crisis is experienced and exacerbated—as Timothy Morton argues, hyperobjects are by definition “nonlocal” in the sense that they can only be represented in their holistic manifestations. The politics of exploiting and caring for the Earth play out at local levels as, for example, art historian Lucy Lippard shows by highlighting activity around gravel excavation in her recent book Undermining: A Wild Ride through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (2014). The international corporate mining and transporting of resources begins in the backyards of individuals seeking to survive on barren land. Similarly, debates over energy resources that risk having tremendously deleterious and wide-spread impacts are experienced by coal miners as a crisis in their own daily survival. Such is the outcome of our contemporary economy that pits the exploitation of workers against that of the environment. Meanwhile, global warming creates local situations of both drought and flood that compel millions of people every year to abandon their homes and livelihoods.

This seminar proposes to return to the question of the everyday as a way of understanding how quotidian decisions and experiences accrue to form our current climate culture. A vast body of work emerged after WWII that explored the concept of the “everyday” in order to understand how culture reinforced the politics of fascism, and examined how unexceptional small-scale experiences connected to large-scale social change. This literature ranged from Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, who confronted the specter of fascism and totalitarianism directly, to Henri Lefebvre and George Perec, who extended the analysis of the everyday to spatial experience and the life of objects. This literature—and Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism in particular—has experienced a resurgence in response to the habits of thought that have colonized our civic discourse. President Trump’s recent appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Project Agency highlights the way that ecological devastation today is imbricated with economic and racial discourses. What are the nuts and bolts of world-making? Does the everyday establish a presentism that is counter to the long-term mindfulness necessary for environmental action? How is environmental thinking bounded by banal conflicts, by clichés, or by material limitations? How are environmental decisions tied into issues of xenophobia and nationalism? We hope that participants will interpret the categories of literature, art, and performance broadly to include everyday utterances, actions, and images that populate the landscape of environmental thought.

Collaborative seminars will be capped at 15 participants, who will submit brief (5-7 pages) position papers to be circulated and read before the conference. Please submit a 250 word summary of your topic to our email addresses below by May 15, 2017.

Melissa Ragain, Montana State University,
Lily Woodruff, Michigan State University,