Bronislaw Szerszynski (Lancaster University): ‘Gods of the Anthropocene: human and inhuman agencies in the Earth’s new epoch’


The term ‘the Anthropocene’ seems to evoke the idea of an ‘Age of Humanity’ in which the planet
– and perhaps eventually the cosmos – becomes a mere echo chamber in which the Anthropos, the
human being, becomes the only source and telos of agency. Yet as a name for the emerging new
stage of the Earth’s evolution it surely exhibits an extraordinary level of irony. I have argued
elsewhere that, if the Anthropocene is the ‘end of nature’, it is also the ‘end of the end of nature’ –
the end, that is, of Homo faber, the human being understood as that being which can carve a stable
setting for human affairs out of non-human nature, and in which the latter finds its purpose and
meaning (Szerszynski 2013). On the contrary, any Anthropocenic ambition to modulate the
dynamics of nature’s becoming on a global scale will see the collective human will progressively
entangled in the self-organising potentialities of non-human becoming on the one hand (Serres
1995) and the demands of an increasingly inhuman technosphere on the other (Haff 2013). The
Anthropocene will surely be an age not dominated by the will of ‘man’ but by a growing
awareness (whether willingly acceded to or forced on human consciousness) that human beings
are part of an Earth which is made up of countless agencies that are constantly concatenating and
ironising each other’s intentions in intrinsically unpredictable ways (Latour 2013). Whatever the
ecomodernists might suggest (Asafu-Adjaye et al. 2015), in the Anthropocene humans will find
themselves more, not less, conditioned by non-human agency.
Yet in this paper I want to extend this account further, suggesting that the advent of the
Anthropocene is giving rise to what might be called a Great Acceleration of spirit. As seasonal
patterns shift, the old gods known by surviving foraging, agrarian and pastoral societies are
withdrawing from human society. As the high modernism of twentieth-century organised
industrial capitalism is displaced by the delirium of a financialised, postmodern capitalism, the
high god of reason and morality is fading from the public life of the West as harsher, apocalyptic
monotheisms spread in parts of the developing world made turbulent by extractive economies and
climatic change. And as commodified global flows of matter, energy and value accelerate and
undermine local gift economies, reports proliferate in postcolonial contexts of cannibal spirits,
vampiric technicians, demonic mine and factory owners, zombie workers and chthonic demons. I
will interrogate these three interlinked shifts in sacral ordering, and, drawing on the work of
Georges Bataille, Gilles Deleuze, Teresa Brennan and others, suggest that we can use them to
better understand the hidden material and cultural logics of the Anthropocene.  





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