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  • The Last Cigarette
  • Daniel Eltringham (bio)
Anthropocene Poetics: Deep Time, Sacrifice Zones, and Extinction by David Farrier. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2019. Pp. 184. $92 cloth, $23 paper.

As a temporal category "the Anthropocene" makes a fundamental claim about periodicity: the geological age of the anthropos is upon us, or "we" have ushered it in, and it is categorically distinct from what came before (geologically, the Holocene). Subjectively, this idea induces the nauseous vertigo of living as subjects in two radically incommensurate times at once: what Anne-Lise François calls "the simultaneity of speed and slow time. … To listen to the geologists, the Anthropocene would be humanity's last cigarette, a name for the fast consumption of deep time."1

Such a disjunctive "poetics of thick time," to name one of the central modes David Farrier identifies in Anthropocene Poetics, is corralled in a particularly persistent way, he argues, by "lyric's capacity to pull multiple temporalities and scales within a single frame" (9). One of the many virtues of this book is the way in which Farrier's sustained focus on the viscous "now" of lyric address enables his close-reading practice to trespass the bounds of the words on the page, in order to access deep times that he reveals to be snagged in the trellises of stanzaic structure. Throughout, these textures of violence or tenderness are shown to add up to a "form of knowledge in the traffic between entities," a politics of matter and relation to the more-than-human world (19). [End Page 313]

Farrier's Anthropocene Poetics engages, therefore, "questions of scale, interconnection, and response, but framed more explicitly in terms of deep time" (8). Its three chapters address what he sees as the "three main rubrics for understanding environmental crisis within the humanities—the Anthropocene and the "material turn" in environmental philosophy, the "Plantationocene" and the role of global capitalism in environmental crisis, and the emergence of multispecies ethics and extinction studies" (8). Each chapter groups two or three poets—Elizabeth Bishop and Seamus Heaney, Peter Larkin and Evelyn Reilly, and Mark Doty, Sean Borrowdale, and Christian Bök—in alignments that are given theoretical impetus by framing discussion of an artwork. These unusually worked-through vignettes set up the poetics that each chapter goes on to analyze by placing them in the context of contemporary art's materialist concern with matter, agency and kin-making encounters.

In the fast-and-slow time of academic criticism and publishing, the modish nature of the term "Anthropocene" poses a further periodic difficulty. If, as Farrier quotes Timothy Clark's wry observation, the Anthropocene functions in critical discourse as an "intellectual shortcut," then another stratigraphic layer is added to the book's central focus on the poetics of deep, weirdly persistent time in a thoroughly instrumentalized, throwaway present (4). That is the time of criticism, in which each contribution is measured in reference to its near-contemporaries, yet is set, too, within both the long expanse of the geological record and the imminence of rapid climatic disturbance to come. The debates around the way the term Anthropocene reinstates human agency as well as responsibility—reprising the cosmological hubris of the Earthrise image which Farrier discusses (32)—are surely far from over. As with other interventions, Farrier's temperature-taking of the shifting sands of Anthropocene studies, to mix geophysical metaphors, must be only a provisional reading.

Probably the most significant recent entrant into the field is another volume in the same Minnesota Posthumanities series, Karen Yusoff's A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, which draws out the implications of critiques of the term by Haraway, Moore, and Malm, but in the direction of critical race studies. Yusoff's central argument is that the grammar of geology underwrites the extractive economies of historical and ongoing colonialism that seek to exploit mineral and biopolitical wealth alike. "The Anthropocene," far from redressing this violent historical elision between race and resource, "proclaims the language of species-life […] through a [End Page 314] universalist geologic commons" while it "neatly erases histories of racism that were incubated through the regulatory structure of geologic relations."2 Along similar lines, Nicholas Mirzoeff brings...


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