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Theoretical Models for a World on Fire

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Organizer: Mathias Nilges

Co-Organizer: Eyal Amiran

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As global climates change, ecosystems collapse, and species disappear in human rather than geological time, responses to these changes have become increasingly inconceivable. Several theorists, including Andreas Malm, Ian Baucom, and Matthew Omelsky, have called for new systems of thought that can respond to the new conditions of the planet. Andri Snær Magnason proposes that the effort to make sense of the changing world focuses again on systems of thought, the ideas, words, and stories that narrativize human relations to our planet. “If one thing characterizes our time,” Magnason concludes, “it's the struggle over words […] That struggle is about deciding how the world is worded.” But the words and ideas available to us are revealing themselves as insufficient. “I sense a buzzing inside me, the way all these words form a black hole I can't directly perceive because its quantity absorbs all its meaning.” Even for Magnason, who asks for narrative responses to catastrophe, these narratives have failed.

In this seminar, we explore the need for new theoretical models for a world on fire. This seminar seeks to gather work that engages with substantively new directions for cultural theory for the age of climate emergency. We are interested, for instance, in questions like:

What role can (must?) cultural theory play in the effort to develop systems of thought that address the challenges of a catastrophic world ecology? 
How are racialized and economic experiences producing the world catastrophe, often in asymmetrical ways? How is the physical world of catastrophe political, economic, and racial? 
What new developments in theoretical thought are able to speak to the function that art and culture assume in the struggle for words and ideas that is a crucial aspect of the climate emergency?
How do cultures of climate denial produce or reproduce structures of thought with which new theory must contend or which produce theoretical work itself?
What new directions for cultural theory’s response to climate change are emerging from the Global South or, more generally, from outside North America and Europe (the regions that most significantly accelerate climate change while also defending the structural and imaginative status quo)?
Can posthuman theory or ontologies respond to or recognize climate catastrophe as such?
Are different temporality and futurity produced by the new ecological horizon, and if so, how do they affect concepts like the human, world, future, and possibility? 
How can recent work in the study of queer temporalities and temporality and race be brought to bear on the temporal issues posed by the climate emergency?

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