Queen Mary University London
“Geologic Realism: Epochal Thoughts and the Terminal Beach of Geologic Time”
Geology is composed of a field of temporal markers that locate and sediment the narratives of the present, in which fossils serve as originary artifacts for stories of species and trajectories of the human in time and space. However, in the recent nomination of the Anthropocene, geology appears anew as a future-orientated practice (albeit one of negative possibility) that prompts concerns for fashioning alternative worlds and counter modes of fossilization. While the Anthropocene is problematic in all its assumptions about agency and might not be a proper name for this epoch, it does signal a threshold; namely, the demise of the stable material conditions of the Holocene that provided the context for Western thought. The Anthropocene is a name that opens up a speculative dimension to the figurations of planetary thought and material relations. In this speculative space, the very context of matter in which thought exists and takes hold is questioned. As the Anthropocene asks us to look at the rocky subsurface beneath our feet, and anthropogenic climate change bids us to look at the sky, one tells of the certainty of extinction, and the other offers a mutable heaven. Looking both ways along the axis of sky and ground, something has shifted in the way thought and materiality are tied together; something is out of joint and materially unbound, between a rock and a hard place in geologic time. The provocation of this new epoch may well be to demand an engagement with geologic realism and a confrontation with the abysmal dimensions of its horizons. Looking along the sightlines of this shifting planetary axis, along which thinking now has to occur, this paper addresses how aesthetics might be a way to navigate the complex dance of categories in the explication of geologic sense-matter.
Kathryn Yusoff is Reader in Human Geography at Queen Mary University of London. Her research focuses on geophilosophy, political aesthetics and the Anthropocene. She is currently writing a book on “Geologic Life.”