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Anthropocene Responsibility

deadline for submissions:
July 31, 2017

full name / name of organization:
Chase Pielak, Ph.D. / Auburn University

contact email:

Anthropocene Responsibility

We are seeking proposals of 500 words by July 31, 2017 for essays to be included in an edited collection on the possibilities of responsibility in the anthropocene era.

Does responsibility end in an apocalypse or does subjectivity somehow change as a result of it? We believe that the possibility ends in some form of shared subjectivity that dethrones anthropocentrism (following the arguments made by animal studies critics in the last decade, e.g. Matthew Calarco and Janelle Schwartz). Drawing from literary and film depictions of apocalypse, this book will imagine new approaches to responsibility in the Anthropocene in light of the possibilities or potentialities of apocalypse. These readings may well engage climate change, politics, culture broadly conceived, etc., however, we hope that they will be grounded in relevant texts and films.

From Mary Shelley’s The Last Man onward through The Walking Dead (and perhaps before or after) there runs an anthropocentricism-busting thread. The problematic of catastrophic apocalypse is that it invalidates, at its end, the possibility of responsibility—of responding—because it reduces the possible set of external beings to whom we might respond. When human animals cease to call out demanding recognition (or misrecognition), there seems to be no need to respond. The question is a serious one because Derrida and others would argue that responsibility is key for subjectivity, for perhaps even personhood (as in The Gift of Death and The Animal that Therefore I Am). Responsibility governs how we relate to other creatures, both of the human variety and other species, and perhaps even to things, as recent proponents of thing-theory might suggest. Or perhaps it is simply anthropocentrism that is posthumous.

The premise of the Anthropocene is that humans have become aware of the possibility that we will destroy our species. Through climate change, or Kellis-Amberlee virus, or (pick a poison here) we will cease to be as a species. This possibility, this imagined perhaps, becomes rather an extancy having been conceived, a birth before the fact, infecting the possibility of subjectivity. In effect, like Keats, we are already living a posthumous existence.

Some questions to consider might be:

How might we reimagine subjectivity in light of the Anthropocene possibilities of apocalypse, which seem to reduce the possibility of grounding subjectivity in radical responsibility?

How can we choose to live in the apocalypse and toward what end? The possibility of ethics, even apocalyptic ethics, seems to be invalidated.

Without responsibility how do we relate, and to what?

How might we respond to the last man case? (And does the presence of only one other human, real or imagined, change the case study?) Surely it must, as the possibility of responsibility moves from internal to external.

If we imagine the end of subjectivity, has it already ended? I.e. if a human can be imagined as irresponsible, as no longer a subject, might they in fact already be irresponsible?

For more information, please contact Chase Pielak ( or Deborah Christie (