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  • The Planetary Turn: Relationality and Geoaesthetics in the Twenty-First Century ed. by Amy J. Elias and Christian Moraru
  • Donald R. Wehrs
Amy J. Elias and Christian Moraru, eds. The Planetary Turn: Relationality and Geoaesthetics in the Twenty-First Century. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2015. vii-xxxvii, 272 pp.

In their introduction to this collection of twelve essays, Amy J. Elias and Christian Moraru argue both for the actuality of a “planetary turn in contemporary criticism and theory” (xi) and for the proposition that “the critical-theoretical model of planetarity” may challenge totalizing paradigms of globalization in ways that postmodern “hermeneutics of suspicion” no longer can (and perhaps never could). The ambitions here are large, but whether the “planetary” can move from aspiration to idea is hardly self-evident. The editors note that much planetary discourse remains “frustratingly amorphous” (xii). Still, they argue that viewing the planet “as a living organism, as a shared ecology” and attending to globally “bioconnective” integrative material and cultural processes push toward thinking of “relationality” in terms of “an ethicization of the ecumenic process of coming together or ‘worlding.’” Planetary theorizing, so understood, speaks to why and how “relatedness, dialogue, and interactivity” have become “central to major aesthetic initiatives…at this stage in world history.” In particular, the trauma of September 11 problematizes homogenizing discourses of globalization and cosmopolitanism, and so makes desirable a new theory that acknowledges and stimulates “relational, world-transforming dialogics” (xix). Becoming cognizant of a “relatedness [that] both recognizes and hinges on negotiations of difference,” the editors argue, enhances the prospects that theorizing “being-in-relation” will help foster “ethical relations worldwide” (xxi).

This sounds very nice, but experiencing bioconnective planetary interrelatedness as fact may provoke emphatic rejection of “being-in-relation” ethicality. Politicized fundamentalisms and resurgent militant nationalism attest [End Page 589] to the potency of highly anti-dialogic contemporary responses to planetary interrelatedness. Although the essays are properly concerned about elite exploitation of integrative processes, they do not address the rage against “being-in-relation” that characterizes terrorism and ethnic cleansing, and that marks hostility toward financial interdependence roiling both the Left and Right. Instead, the essays perceive their task as one of offering varied answers to the question of how “to begin to read the planetary as a repertoire of aesthetic routines structurally presupposing and further stimulating relationality” (xxvii).

John D. Pizer opens the collection by linking current tensions between totalizing globalism and pluralistic relationality to the origins of comparative literature, to the distinction between Goethe’s concept of Weltliteratur, itself an anti-totalizing response to Metternich’s construction of a post-Napoleonic “New European Order,” and Novalis’s “proto-planetary idealism” (12), wherein resistance to universalization goes beyond affirmation of the particular to valorization of incommensurability and so the fragmentary.

Essays sketching research agendas follow. Hester Blum suggests that interdisciplinary “oceanic studies” may contest “a land-based perspective that emerges from an understanding of the planet as subdivided into political rather than ecoglobalist categories” (25). Highlighting connections between fluid crossings of the aquatic and suspicions of conceptual categories and boundaries in Melville, Thoreau, and Rancière, among others, Blum argues for “capacious possibilities for new relational forms—dispersion, erosion, flotation, confluence, solvency—adapted from…examples provided by the ocean” (26). Amy J. Elias uses the pre-modern notion of a “commons,” as in resources available for all to use and enjoy, as a means of theorizing democratizing possibilities in digital (virtual) spaces, especially the Open Source movement. This is linked, provocatively, to affect studies. Elias suggests that the sharing of affects not “owned” by isolated, proprietorial subjects creates something of a “social commons” (56). Alan Kirby explicates “digimodernism.” Analysis of “symbiotic” relationships between “the socio-technological” and “the textual-cultural” (73), as in “the displacement of theater as cinema’s ‘other’ by the video game,” creates, Kerby argues, a “cyber-placelessness” (75) that works against totalizing, imperializing aspects of globalization.

The next four essays focus on the relation of aesthetics to theorizing the human and reconceiving genre history. Analyzing contemporary films as “a jumping-off point” (101), Raoul Eschelman advocates “performatist plan-etarism” as “an aesthetic and political project in the sense that it is used...


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