Beyond the End of the World

Human and Non-Human After the Collapse of ‘Civilization’

Amitav Ghosh

With an introduction by Nikhil Anand, PPEH Topic Director

The idea of the ‘human’, as a unitary species, dates back to the founding years of the very structures of modernity that can now be seen to be hurtling towards collapse. As this process intensifies it may bring about a fundamental reconsideration of modern ideas regarding which entities possess such attributes as agency, speech, reason, and so on. If so what kinds of narratives and knowledge traditions can we turn to for guidance about what might lie ahead? This talk explores some possibilities.

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This talk is co-sponsored by The Wolf Humanities Center

4 replies on “Beyond the End of the World”

Thank you so much for your talk. My introduction to you was through a friend’s suggestion to read The Hungry Tide (I am an historical marine ecologist and artist) so I truly appreciate your sharing of the video you took of your time in the Sundarbans with the people of Rajat Jubilee Village during their ritual to Bon Bibi.
There is much resonating with me from the observation that we seem to need to find optimistic epilogues to our end of the world stories to the idea of history creation is “untying and retying the knots of potentials of situations” and “transformation in continuity.”
Perhaps noting that our desire to project into the future is a way of escaping the necessity to confront the here-and-now issues will lead us, or actually return us, to a more holistic conversation and working relationship with all of us humans to each other and the nonhuman ecosystems we so dramatically alter.

What is fascinating is the way in which you embolden the current planetary crisis as a, forgive my phrasing, “neo-postcolonial predicament”– as if the current crisis is an uncanny return, an unfinished epic still-unfolding or a disguised reincarnation of colonial violence. Therefore, the issue is as much an issue emerging and sustained by neoliberal forces of globalisation as it is actualized and processed by a lived historical sense of the Enlightenment notion of (white) Man’s ‘reasonable’ supremacy over Nature. Having taken this route, it seems to me the old (but not necessarily irrelevant) questions regarding the post-colonial self are raised yet again, but this time, adapting an optic of environment. Thus, the same questions about the epistemic and homicidal violences of modernist teleologies, the modern self’s relation to nature and the non-human, the ethics of categorization, the entanglements of knowledge and power, the interlinks between the spheres of speculative imaginary, natural sciences, and theology and so on…are taken up but only to end up with the same schemata of responses. Thereby, it comes as no surprise that you fall back on the rhetoric of localism; the rich regional and folklorist traditions as gateways of resolution to confront the crisis. (The ideology of End-of-Worldism is founded on the colonial bias of universalism, thus your proposed response is naturally to look at the plural and the local)

But my question is as following: Could we truly comprehend the scale of the current planetary crisis by the way of humanist/modernist invocations bypassed as a post-colonial concern? Would this strategy of reading the present moment as the “return of history” help us re-orient ourselves to the task at hand, that is, to problematize the ‘anthropos’ in this age of Anthropocene? Is not perhaps more powerful to attend this enlightenment-like humanist hubris by facing up to the geological scales?

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