I received this short-course invitation in my academic mail. The location and other information has been redacted, leaving the following description of what will be discussed and written about:
“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…
This [class] 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… 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.”
Yes, it is in English, just a very specialized dialect of Academic. And it is one reason why I fear that environmental history is going to be fragmenting as a discipline much the way Western History (history of the US West) seems to be doing. I suspect, were I to put my hat back into the ring for college-level employment, I would not pass the first level of the process because I do not follow these kinds of analyses, nor do I put much weight on the theoretical material described above. Yes, I know what the individual (or committee) that wrote the description was referring to. Yes, I have read some of the critical texts in that sub-section of the field. No, I don’t believe that trying to see the world through them is the best way to either tell the stories of the places under study, or to deal with environmental problems like pollution, erosion, and other things.
There are other, similar invitations in my academic mailbox. And people wonder, aside from cost and scheduling difficulties, why I tend to focus on a limited number of meetings and conferences? Not to mention the risk of outing my politics when I either mutter “Bingo!” a little too loudly, or laugh in the wrong places.