Anne-Lise François

University of California, Berkeley

“Flowers of a Day: Margins, Reserves, Climate Change”

In a recent essay “Feral Biologies,” Anna Tsing calls the Holocene “the long period when refugia, places of refuge, still existed, even abounded, to sustain reworlding in rich cultural and biological diversity.” For Tsing “the inflection point between the Holocene and the Anthropocene might be the wiping out of most of the refugia from which diverse species assemblages (with or without people) can be reconstituted after major events.” The notion of a world without margins of refuge can be compared to Michel Serres’s claim that the total reach of global industrial capitalism means that “nature” no longer exists as a regenerative and recreational “reserve.” Drawing on Serres and Tsing, this paper turns to the role played by reserve, this time understood as “stockpiles” and “surplus” in the double sense of “capital awaiting reinvestment” and “stored energy awaiting use,” in bringing us, ironically, to the no-exit planetary crisis that Serres describes as “having nothing left in reserve.” I argue that this brittleness ensues because the manipulation of temporal energy that begins, according to Andreas Malm, with the release of the stored energy of millennia of solar years in the form of coal mining and other kinds of fossil fuel extraction, forecloses another kind of relationship to temporal contingency and variability. In the second half of the paper, I turn to flower-like poems by Izumi Shikibu, John Clare and Emily Dickinson about flowers as fugitive temporal markers of solar presence. By turning to the example of lyric time, I hope to illuminate the contradictions defining the hourly consumption of fossil energies whose waste-products are imperishable.

Anne-Lise François teaches comparative literature and English at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Open Secrets: The Literature of Uncounted Experience (2008); her current book project is entitled “Provident Improvisers: Parables of Subsistence in the Time of Enclosures.” Rejecting the logic of scarcity that encloses time in storage- and surplus-economies, “Provident Improvisers” turns toward literary examples for counter-practices of the temporal, provisional, frugal, fugitive, and itinerant. Early drafts of some of the book chapters have appeared or are forthcoming as essays in Qui Parle, Minnesota Review, River of Fire: Commons, Crisis, and the Imagination, ed. Cal Winslow (Boston: Pumping Station Press) and Anthropocene Reading (ed. Tobias Menely, forthcoming with Penn State University Press).