The question of extinction and species-death now hangs over the possibility of all earthly life, not just human life. The diversity of existing life forms and species is faced with anthropogenic ecocide and extinction. This ongoing mass extinction event calls for urgent action and fundamental shifts in sociopolitical agency and human representation, from science and theory to poetry and poetics, on behalf not only of ‘species’ but of all living things. The issues are at once disastrously determinate – anthropogenic violence of different kinds is killing whole species at a terrifying rate – but also theoretically indeterminate.
Making such a question a theme for poetic or theoretical reflection reveals a profound gulf between human reason and human action. Foregrounding this gulf risks fetishizing poetry or theory within some form of ‘extinction studies’ rather than organising new forms of representation and arks for survival. The rush to practical responses and reactions risks deepening or hastening the very tendencies that have made extinctions inevitable. Human anxiety about species and habitat loss, is not adequate to address the dire situation — and all discussion and theorising operating as an exchange between the ‘knowing’ is going to accompany such loss, and not ultimately prevent it. This is a call for poetics and theoretical papers that aim to widen awareness and to develop communal as well as personal approaches to preventing extinction events. How might forms of writing, eco-science, activism and environmental poetics contribute to the understanding, alleviation or redirection of extinction dynamics? How do consumers and technological life trajectories contribute to and fetishize the very thing ‘we’ are trying to prevent? Self-critique needs to be worked into all writing and actions towards the prevention of extinction.
The history of western reason is not just complicit with the will to extinction but is a condition of its possibility, a human hubris or species death-drive that reveals deep metaphysical delusions and deficits. The developing disaster of “the sixth extinction”, however, is not so much a conceptual problem as a more specific and concrete historical problem, associated with bio- chemically violent industrial capitalism. How, moreover, is the contemporary reality of extinction commensurable with the history of previous “mass extinction events”? How is it possible to know or understand the dynamics of extinction within human terms without trusting in sciences that are themselves complicit with anthropogenic violence?
Those who recognise the enormity of the problems associated with extinction run the risk of creating new forms of scholarly escapism, new forms for the poetic appreciation of extinction and new forms of nature tourism, producing modes of representation that preach to the converted or make human killing an occasion for art that entertains or consumes its claims to be critical.
Poetics of extinction run through culture from ancient flood narratives to science fiction, popular culture and apocalyptic representations. Fundamental questions arise in relation to the origins of extinction dynamics and its associated conceptual architecture, from doomsday arguments and Gaia theory to apocalyptic and imaginative representations of the ends of humanity, ‘the world’ and life as such. The impact of extinction also intersects with a range of associated problems and dynamics, such as global industrialisation, climate change, the role of biochemical and pharmaceutical industries and the fate of anthropocene capitalism. Recognition of the unfolding disasters of extinction forces a re-examination of theory, of death and the idea of species, of humanity, and of the humanities as such. Such recognitions intersect with other struggles, such as those of speciesism, veganism, feminism, post-humanism and the politics of the biosphere.
The eschatology of 'extinction studies' risks becoming a vehicle for human concerns rather than an intactness of ‘being’ in the broadest sense — the health of existence. Anthropogenic extinctions constitute existential threats to existence and yet no phenomenology or anthropology can account for the deep human complicities. Extinctions have many inflections, and many 'causes' that seek to sidestep collective human responsibility. With different paths to understanding, the tools for contesting injustice between humans are being used as tools to blur resistance to capitalist-driven climate change, and the productivity of made extinctions. There have been too many capitalist blurrings of rights issues — how can we defend the rights to difference when mining companies make the devices we are using by defying and defiling every propriety of space sharing with other creatures, even the land itself? Who will extinguish the merchants of extinction? Who and where are the collective agencies of resistance and reconfiguration?
This call for contributions to a special issue of Angelaki invites critical writing on any aspect of the theory, history and poetics of extinction.
Contributions might address:
- critical interventions in the discourse of extinction;
- concrete histories or analyses of the ecology of extinction;
- theoretical investigations into the philosophy and metaphysics of extinction;
- critical discussions of the representation of extinction dynamics in the history of culture and science;
- new arguments in the relation between extinction tendencies and related problems in theory and the humanities;
- arguments on the implications of extinction for law, politics and ‘human’ rights;
- discussions of the theory and / or poetics of ecocide and extinction drives;
- discussions of ideas of species and speciesism and the ethics of the biosphere;
- writings that address the relation between extinction and post-industrial society, post-humanism and globalisation.
- specific examples and studies of attempts to protect threatened ‘species’/habitat and their circumstance
- examples of ‘species’ themselves ‘adapting’ to thwart anthropocenic annihilation, such as those outlined in Nature Climate Change: and an attendant politics of ‘hope’.
The editors are committed to publishing a diversity of different writing forms that offer new and critical contributions to the question, problem, representation and reality of extinction.
The editors welcome questions, suggestions, ideas, provisional proposals, notes on possible contributions and formal abstracts.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)
Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (1990)
John Leslie, The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction (1998)
Broswimmer Franz, Ecocide: A Short History of Mass Extinction of Species (2002)
Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life (2003)
Genese Marie Sodikoff, ed., The Anthropology of Extinction: Essays on Culture and Species Death (2012)
J.K. Gibson-Graham, “Being the Revolution, or, How to Live in a “More-Than-Capitalist” World Threatened with Extinction”, Rethinking Marxism (2013)
Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014)
Thom Van Doreen, Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (2014)
Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World (2015)
Ashley Dawson, Extinction: A Radical History (2016)
Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene (2016)
Ursula Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (2016)
Eds. Thom Van Doreen, Deborah B. Rose, Matthew Chrulew, Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (2017)
Eds. Matthias Fritsch, Philippe Lynes and David Wood, Eco-Deconstruction: Derrida and Environmental Philosophy (2018)
Andrew J. Suggit, et al., ‘Extinction risk from climate change is reduced by microclimatic buffering’, Nature Climate Change, vol 8 (2018), pp. 713–717.
Issue 26.3 to be published June 2021.
Expressions of interest and proposals, but not papers at this stage, to the editors by 1 March 2019.