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The Anthrobscene by Jussi Parikka

2015-06-12 08.03.48This short book, one of U. Minnesota P’s new “Forerunners” series, is a great little one-nighter for those of us weighing Anthropocene thoughts. The Press blurb tells it — “This is gray literature publishing: where intense thinking, change, and speculation take place in scholarship.”

Jussi Parikka teaches aesthetic theory and technological culture at the Winchester School of Art in Southampton. His play on the age of Anthropos emphasizes the obscene nature of despoiling wild spaces:

To call it “anthrobscene” is just to emphasize what we knew but perhaps shied away from acting on: a horrific human-caused drive toward a sixth mass extinction of species (6).

It’s a book about media cultures and geology, with special attention to the history of resource extraction through mining. The best part is the careful layering and sedimentation of different modes: high theory, material history, literary responses. For Parikka, “deep time” functions “both as temporality and as geological materiality” (29).

He emphasizes the wide reach and complexity of contemporary geologic extraction:

We have shifted from being a society that until mid-twentieth century was based on a very restricted list of materials (wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, silver, and a few plastics) to one in which a computer chip is composed of 60 different elements (15).

Perhaps more pointedly:  iPhones are

“geological extracts,” drawing across the globe earth resources and supported by a multiplicity of infrastructures. The bits of earth you carry around … include material from the Red Dog pit mine in Alaska (zinc ores) which are then refined into indium in Trail, Canada (37).

He turns Pynchon-y at the end, with a conclusion about technologies of light in Against the Day (2007). Pynchon reads modernity as the amalgamation of alchemy + money: “Maybe capitalism decided it didn’t need the old magic anymore” (55; Against the Day 88).

Nice closing lines too:

Data mining might be a leading hype term for our digital age of the moment but it is enabled only by the sort of mining that we associate with the ground and its ungrounding. Digital culture starts in the depths and deep times of the planet. Sadly, the story is most often more obscene than something to be celebrated with awe. (56)

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