Isabelle Stengers: “Matters of Cosmopolitics: On the Provocations of Gaïa”

520px-isabelle-stengersIn a long conversation with Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, philosopher Isabelle Stengers shares her thoughts about what she calls the “post-anthropocene”: a state, or rather a frame of mind, where, having “desperately mess[ed] up what they, and many other earthly critters, depend upon“, humans accept that they are not longer alone at the centre of the planetary stage.

“Now those of us who were told stories since birth that there is something really special in being “human” are at a bifurcation point: either we furiously keep to that narrative, or we accept that if there is a post-Anthropocene worth living in, those who will live in it will need different stories, with no entity at the centre of the stage. This does not preclude “responsibility,” but carries the sense of being able to respond.”

The last sentence bears explaining. In Stengers’ view, the “Anthropocene” thesis carries the risk of assigning humans a new, ever-more promethean mission: That of cleaning their own mess. To her (if I understand rightly), the “Gaïa intrusion” is forcing us to share the stage, in a messy way, with other agencies and “critters” – with no end in sight. Which is why she repeatedly shares her interest for science-fiction stories:

“To me, science fiction is much more sustaining in this respect, from the works of Ursula Le Guin to David Brin’s last novel, Existence. I do not perceive a race in such science fiction for the “cutting edge,” but rather a cooperative imaginative and speculative exercise addressed to readers who do not need critics to grasp what is at stake in a novel.”

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