Some interesting discussion in class last night about the different contexts of the terms anthropocene and homogenocene.
For anthropocene, which seems to be a fast-becoming the default term — see Timothy Morton’s blog — we poked around on a spiffy new website and talked about what happens when you keep “anthropos” at the center of things, even as villain rather than hero. If the big story of the 21c is anthropic climate change, driven by the carbon we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere since the early industrial period (or long before, as some argue), then that’s still a human-centered world picture, a planet built, or in this case trashed, by us. It’s a different story from the civilizing mission of colonialism, but the central actor remains essentially the same.
The homogenocene, by contrast, isn’t about people. If the big story — I adapt this argument from Charles Mann’s 1493 — is about the homogenization of biological life after the physical reintegration of the once-isolated ecosystems of the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa after the late 15c, that’s a different story. Human beings are still instigators, even infamous characters like Columbus, Cortez, Pizzarro, and the others. But the key actors in this story aren’t just admirals or conquistadors; they also include mosquitos tobacco, viruses, plant and animal species such as potatoes, tomatoes,, and other things. (If I were rewriting the story I’d emphasis ocean currents and wind patterns — but that’s the sort of salty stuff I like.)
The homogenocene seems the more neutral term, and certainly it exerts less political pressure on the present. But I wonder if it’s not the more complex and problematic way to understand globalization and perhaps even modernity. A process of mixing, of bringing together things — people, plants, animals, viruses, insects — that were once mostly separate. It’s not a peaceful process at all, as the uncountable deaths of native Americans to European and African diseases shows most drastically. But even if humans perhaps started it, it’s pretty clearly outside of human hands now, and has been for a long time.
Mann’s version of this eco-story does something interesting to figures like Columbus and Cortes. They certainly aren’t the heroes of 19c histories, but they also aren’t purely colonialist villains. In some ways they seem like fools, ineffectual and not in control for all of their massive ambition and the world-changing consequences of their lives.
I suppose the homogenocene tells a posthuman variation on the eco-story.