Sublime Delusion

Scientists have recently proposed that the current geological era should be called the Anthropocene because of the enormous impact of human activity on the biosphere. This seems to be a reasonable idea, but when the art world gets hold of it it becomes something else. A European museum is going to dedicate a year’s worth of programming to the concept, with the thesis that “Our notion of nature is now out of date. Humanity forms nature.” From objective measurement of the relative importance of human impacts on the earth we have moved to an extravagant philosophical claim. I find it dubious in the extreme. There’s no doubt that in art circles the word “nature” has fallen victim to post-modern attitudinizing. Personally I find it very useful, though sometimes prefer to use the term “inhuman” to indicate everything that lies outside of our capacity to manage or exploit. Any artist will recognize that the boundary between the human and the inhuman runs right through every individual. We have hardly encircled nature, and remain surrounded by forces over which we have absolutely no control.  The biosphere itself is very small and fragile and far from being the totality of nature. Such fantasies are just another example of our need to assert our own importance. Human beings are not interested in anything outside of themselves, and never cease to imagine swallowing the world entirely. Such dreams might help prepare for an encounter with threatening nature. Science is one activity that tries to overcome this solipsistic habit, art can be another.

The Anthropocene Era

The Anthropocene Era

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