Critique and the World Outside Us

deadline for submissions: 
September 20, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Ian Jensen
contact email: 

In a recent interview, philosopher Christopher Preston (Montana) notes that we are presently at a crux wherein we are in danger of losing contact with what he refers to as “the world outside of us, the world outside our control” (“Reengineering Our World: A Cautionary Tale,” Vision.org). At first blush, Preston is a thinker out of time with this sentiment--the kind of loss he refers to has more in common with the “back to the land” ethos of what is often called second wave environmentalism than it does with current analyses in the environmental humanities, many of which argue that the present intuition of the fading of the “world outside of us” is little more than an ideological distortion. This seminar seeks to bridge the position Preston articulates with the critical aspects of the environmental humanities that have come to the fore in roughly the last two decades, aspects that will apply what Paul Ricouer once called the “hermeneutics of suspicion” to ideas of “nature” and “the natural.” This bridging will require the presupposition that the environmental anxieties of what some are calling the Anthropocene are not fundamentally uncritical in their orientations, that notions of conservation and/or preservation can be critically informed and practiced, that the world outside of us matters but not, or not only, in the form of a kind of vulgar romantic immanence or unity.

The topic of this seminar then is a question: How can we bridge an analysis of the loss of the world outside of us with the critical tools of the contemporary humanities? That question is subtended by the thesis that these critical tools are both indispensable and at the same time instruments of control themselves (Cf. Adorno and Horkheimer’s The Dialectic of Enlightenment). As such, these tools are all too easily coopted by the neoliberal order of the moment (Latour, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?”): Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate the positions of the critical humanist and the natural resource extractor when it comes to “nature,” “wilderness,” and “conservation.” We hope that over the course of the seminar, we can begin a conversation that offers some insight into these complex and tangled questions.

To that end, we encourage papers that discuss these matters on the theoretical level, applied interpretations of cultural works, interrogations of both “the world outside us” thesis and of contemporary critical environmental thought, and any other paper that might engage with these questions. Please submit an abstract of 250-300 words through the ACLA website https://www.acla.org/annual-meeting between Thursday, August 30, at 12 noon EST and Thursday, September 20, at 9 a.m. EST. Email iank.jensen@gmail.com with any questions.