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The Arctic at the End of the World: Hannah Arendt and the Narration of Apocalypse

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  • UserStephen Lezak, University of Cambridge (SPRI)
  • ClockThursday 28 October 2021, 14:00-15:00
  • HouseZoom.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Alice Oates.

The Arctic is summoned as a harbinger of apocalypse. Too dramatic? Maybe. Then again, headlines crop up with increasing frequency announcing that the entire region is “in a death spiral” or “on the brink” of some more-than-discursive precipice. The implication: as goes the Arctic, so goes the planet.

For fifty years—a relative blink in the lifespan of homo sapiens—the prospect of technologically mediated global apocalypse has haunted public and private imaginaries. What began with nuclear anxieties has shifted into climatic ones. All the while, the intimate politics of anonymous catastrophe remain, blinking through the limelight. The “end of the world” is increasingly studied by geographers as a phenomenon—but we’re playing catch-up.

For this PHaSS session, we’ll bring the Arctic at the end of the world into conversation with the pre-apocalyptic writing of political theorist Hannah Arendt, to venture a little farther into our current moment of dark ecology (Morton, 2010). In particular, we’ll ask how Arendt’s ideas of worldlessness might help us understand how the narration of apocalypse mediates the anxieties of mass society by providing a sense of historicity, purpose, and place. We ask: what if, for those who would otherwise feel lost in the oceanic churn of mass society, the apocalyptic moment is not an experience of being lost, but rather of being found, reoriented to a world that suddenly needs us? To a world that suddenly cares. The Arctic is just the beginning.

Suggested reading ahead of the workshop: https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/meltwater-a-timepiece-for-the-arctic/

This talk is part of the Polar Humanities and Social Sciences ECR Workshop series.

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