Thursday, December 12, 2019

Christopher Schaberg's "Searching for the Anthropocene"

Christopher Schaberg is Dorothy Harrell Brown Distinguished Professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans, USA. He is the author of The Textual Life of Airports: Reading the Culture of Flight (2013), The End of Airports (2015), and Airportness: The Nature of Flight (2017), and co-editor of Deconstructing Brad Pitt (2014).

Schaberg applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Searching for the Anthropocene: A Journey into the Environmental Humanities, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Searching for the Anthropocene starts with the end of a sentence: “[…]to say that our airplanes are obsolete?” The rest of page 99 develops links between commercial air travel and the Anthropocene (in short, the epoch defined by destructive human impact on the planet). Specifically, that page is referring to some disparaging comments that Donald Trump made about U.S. airports when he was on the campaign trail in 2016, calling them “a disaster.” I use this knee-jerk criticism of air travel as a refracting lens for glimpsing larger (environmental) problems.

Page 99 is representative of one of the larger concerns of the book, which is to question air travel as a dominant form of human mobility. This is an extraordinarily unpopular stance to take, as I’ve learned over the years. Even for people who hate traveling or who always complain about airport travesties, critiquing the whole enterprise is anathema. Most people insist that air travel in its current form is here to stay. But as page 99 argues, we have to seriously reassess air travel if we also want to adapt in/to the Anthropocene.

I’ve had a long running obsession with airports and commercial flight, but it may seem surprising in this book, a book about environmental awareness. (Until Greta Thunberg, flight was not really considered to be a primarily environmental subject.) The first half of the book is about my home region of northern Michigan, a beautiful place where I return with my family each summer. The second half of the book plunges into strange and seemingly disparate topics around human travel and consumer culture. I’m trying to reconcile my love of a certain place with how the Anthropocene devours place and leaves waste in its stead. And airports are a sort of litmus test for me, throughout the book: how we fly and how we think about human flight turns out to tell us a lot about how we relate to (or repress) ecology, and how we might manage our species’ future on the planet.
Learn more about Searching for the Anthropocene at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue