The planet is alive

Radical histories for uncanny times

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  • Published 20190203
  • ISBN: 9781925773408
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

I WANT TO take you on a journey from the planet to the parish, from the global to the local, from the Earth in space to the earth beneath our feet, from the lonely glowing speck of dust at the edge of the galaxy to the soil that we kneel upon and sift through our fingers and to which we ultimately return, dust to dust. These are contrasting perspectives of our home – one vertiginous, the other intimate; one from the outside in deep space and the other from the inside in deep time – on very different scales but still connected. And we have to see them as connected if we are to live respectfully and sustainably as part of nature.

I refer to the first decades of the twenty-first century as ‘uncanny times’, for they are weird, strange and unsettling in ways that question nature and culture and even the possibility of distinguishing between them. The Bengali novelist Amitav Ghosh uses the term ‘uncanny’ in his book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (University of Chicago Press, 2016). For him, the word captures our experience of what he calls ‘the urgent proximity of non-human presences’. He’s referring to other creatures, insects, animals, plants, biota, even the very elements themselves – water, earth, air, fire – and our renewed sense of dependence upon them. The planet is alive, says Ghosh, and only for the last three centuries have we forgotten that. We have been suffering from ‘the great derangement’, a disturbing condition of wilful and systematic blindness to the consequences of our own actions, in which we are knowingly killing the planetary systems that support the survival of our species. That’s what’s uncanny about our times: that we are half-aware of this predicament yet also paralysed by it, caught between horror and hubris.

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