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  • A Bestiary of the Anthropocene: Hybrid Plants, Animals, Minerals, Fungi, and Other Specimensed. by Nicolas Nova
  • Hannah Star Rogers
Nicolas Nova and DISNOVATION.ORG, eds., A Bestiary of the Anthropocene: Hybrid Plants, Animals, Minerals, Fungi, and Other Specimens. Illustrated by Maria Roszkowska. Eindhoven, Netherlands: Onomatopee, 2021, 256 pages, paperback, 148x210 mm, €224.77.

A Bestiary of the Anthropoceneis a sumptuous volume, printed with silver ink on black paper, recalling the gold leaf of medieval bestiaries. Bold metallic spot color on uncoated black stock evokes the textures of an RSVP. Enigmatic and informative, the images are seductive and rewarding: an eagle grasping a drone in midair, lost Roombas [End Page 238]and robotic dogs, lawn rolls and astroturf, and artificial reefs and mountains. The glistening images are neither hand etchings nor photographs, neither diagrammatic nor illustrative. The volume offers images, entry stories, interviews, and essays that investigate ideas about human effects and nonhuman reactions to conditions termed "post-natural." The structure of the text emphasizes interrelation rather than arbitrary or the bestiary-descendant atlas-type taxonomic divisions that loosely organize these Anthropocene exemplars.

Unlike the standardization of images developed in the convention of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century atlas, these images represent and invoke the terms of the entry rather than providing cues for comparison across the specimens. Indeed, these internal choices for each entry are a hallmark of how this book conceives of its large subject. In their form, the images are a response to the in-between-ness intrinsic in positing the Anthropocene. These images are self-encapsulations, positing many different ways of defining the Anthropocene. Rhetorically imbricated as a self-referential discussion of the possibilities of a contra-traditional bestiary and at the same time organized as a usable field guide, the text aspires to be a lens through which a reader observes their own cases.

The editors and contributors to this volume hail from artistic, sociological, literary, and philosophical backgrounds, among others. Nicholas Nova and DISNOVATION, the artistic duo of Maria Roszkowska and Nicolas Maigret, edited the work of the artist and theorist contributors, including, among others: Aliens in Green, an artistic collective that investigates the earth-as-laboratory; STS scholar Geoffrey C. Bowker; architectural theorist Benjamin H. Bratton; Alexandre Monnin, scientific director of Origens Media Lab; the artistic research institute Center for Genomic Gastronomy; and the environmental anthropologist Anna Tsing.

The book consists of six sections, divided into categories, with each entry linked to human-induced changes. In section 3, "The Kingdom of Animals," readers are offered 24 entries, a silver plate etching paired with a one-page description of certain qualities of an animal. These descriptions are often literal, rather than allegorical. The entries that comprise the core of the book consist of stories based on the "facts" of natural science, many of which may be familiar to readers as items that have circulated through pop-science articles, motivated by emotive states and the aesthetic informed by the compiler's own academic interpretation. The content of entries reveals the shallows of systematicity. Mineral, Animal, Plant, and Miscellaneous read as allusive reduction of classification that does not describe or contain the indefinite complexity of entries like radioactive mushrooms and cannulated cow.

In sections 1 and 4, contributors reflect on the nature of what a "bestiary of the Anthropocene" could entail, and describe possible responses to the Anthropocene that would be in this mode. Among these emerges a central tension around whether embrace of inimitable hybridizations that have emerged during the "Great Acceleration" is necessary, or if the more conscious and psychologically survivable position is a more distanced description and attenuation of the "artificial fabric of the world" (p. 14). So across this text, the reader is both implicated by the "post-natural" and offered the position of the analyst. The open-ended meta descriptions of the text's conceit, as if the work is still in progress instead of a finished work in the reader's hands, subverts a sense of completion by suggesting that readers might recognize the signs of the Anthropocene in their own environs. This tone invites readers to identify fresh examples from their own surroundings, lives, and situations...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6520
Print ISSN
1063-1801
Pages
pp. 238-241
Launched on MUSE
2022-04-28
Open Access
No
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