Feverish World, or ecotopia now?

Originally published at Immanence: EcoCulture, GeoPhilosophy, MediaPolitics 

By Adrian Ivakhiv

Feverish World was premised on the acknowledgment that the coming decades will be feverish in more ways than one — climatologically, politically, economically, militarily — and that the arts will be essential in helping us come to terms with that feverishness. In my comments opening the symposium, I laid out the organizing committee’s thinking about this “feverishness.” In a follow-up event on November 30, EcoCultureLab will explore ways to move forward locally so as to be better able to “meet” that feverishness.

My hunch is that the only emotionally productive and sustainable ways forward will be to focus on transforming today’s (and tomorrow’s) challenges into ecotopian capacities: How do we remake society into one that can sustain itself ecoculturally (without fossil fuels and grotesque inequalities) into the longer-range future? What are the visions that can guide this process forward?   

The following were my opening comments at the Feverish World Symposium. The ecotopic visioning remains ahead of us.

FEVERISH WORLD

Welcome to Feverish World. Welcome to the Feverish World. Welcome to this Feverish World.

A fever is felt in the bones, the skin, the viscera; it is experienced bodily, sometimes accompanied (ironically) by chills. But we’ve come to rely on an expert — called a thermometer — to tell us if what we have is a “real” fever or not. Is it over 100 Fahrenheit, 38 Celsius, or not quite? Note that 38 is one Celsius degree higher than the baseline norm of 37.

A planet’s temperature — this one’s at any rate — is also measured in degrees Celsius (though it’s averaged out over the entire surface). And a one degree rise? According to IPCC reports: that’s not much at all, and we are practically there. And at the same time it is everything that a planet might want to tolerate without its getting us into a very risky zone. A 2-degree rise is the considered almost guaranteed. And anything above that is considered something like fatal — to the climate regime we’ve grown used to, called the Holocene.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5C  would  require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society…”

A planet can also come to rely on an expert — called science. But our planet is having some difficulty determining how much we should trust that expertise of science.

Feverish World — this symposium, which has grown into also being something of a festival as well, and certainly a convergence — is premised on the understanding that fever is still primarily experienced bodily, and not just as a reading on a thermometer. It is a felt form that becomes us: we become feverish, fever takes us over.

And perhaps more importantly, fever is a good thing. It’s an immune response that helps a body fight off an infection. Treating a fever is intended not so much to eliminate the infection as it is to make one more comfortable while one’s body deals with the infection. Fever itself is uncomfortable, but it is useful. It’s a good sign to pay attention to.

What kind of a sign is fever? Calling our world “feverish” takes us into the realm of metaphor. To avoid metaphor would be to speak in literalisms, which means to speak with a language that has become so settled, predefined, and predigested, that the words we use and the objects they refer to cannot be easily delinked. Their meanings are taken for granted, and with issues that have become, as we say, “politicized” (that is, polarized), we can simply line up on one or the other side of the polarity, like at a football or soccer match, and let the scoring begin.

With metaphor, language becomes alive again. This symposium, Feverish World, is premised on the search for a language — a language of images, narratives, and performative actions — that can bring this terrain alive, a language that doesn’t follow preordained destinies but that can experiment with new meanings, new ways of making connection, novel alliances. A language that can reach back to that level of the body’s felt reality — the fever that is felt in the bones and the viscera.

FEVERISH WORLD, 2018-2068

History doesn’t occur in 50-year chunks. But let’s imagine that it might.

Two such chunks ago, in 1918, almost to this day (give or take a few weeks), World War One formally ended. Soviet revolutionaries formally declared the first nominally socialist constitution, and executed the Romanovs, their aristocratic predecessors. And the Spanish flu engulfed the world, ultimately taking the lives of 50 to 100 million people — the second largest toll of any such disease in history, and far faster spreading than the first (the Black Death).

Fifty years ago, in 1968, the world was again awash in revolutions, riots, and protests — protests on campuses and against an unpopular war, and the assassinations of leaders, but this time of leaders who represented the new, not the old (MLK and Robert Kennedy rather than the Romanovs).

Much has changed since 1968: television has been replaced by the internet and the smart phone, and the seeming “nuclear stability” of the Cold War has been replaced by today’s poly-unstable, multipolar and multinuclear order.

We chose this 50 year window because today’s tensions, challenges, and struggles seem so urgent, so of the moment, and the big challenges — like climate change and ecological disruption (mass extinction and all the rest) seem so ill suited to the 24 hour news cycle, or the annual report, or even the 4 year electoral cycle. Even the 12-year turnaround period being offered us by the latest IPCC report seems far too little, far too late. We thought that by giving ourselves fifty years we might regain a bit of that sense of agency that we need in order to turn around the present crisis (the eco-crisis being, as Natalie Jeremijenko has argued, at heart a crisis of agency). 

FEVERISH WORLD, 2018-2068: Arts and Sciences of Collective Survival

There’s much more to life, of course, than mere survival. Beyond survival there is thriving. There is flourishing. Those are the ultimate goals.

Collective survival, however, implies that there is a collectivity that counts for something, and which our world doesn’t yet seem to have achieved. Torn and riven by inequalities — systemic, structural, institutionalized inequalities that keep us from being anything like a singular humanity — the forging together of a collective agent is still very embryonic.

We invite you to join us in envisioning how this embryonic task might proceed, here in the Burlington area and in all the other locales where it might be taken up.

How do we re-envision the possibility of flourishing, with and for others, in this place, this land, this Winosik corner of Ndakinna (as Fred Wiseman will relate to us shortly), a land between two mountain ranges and facing a lake that was once a sea and that still flows out to a sea through a circuitry of waterways and land-water interfaces? How do we draw on our collective capacities to tell new (and old) stories, envision new (and old) ways of relating, and move and act with them into a new (and old) future aligned with the others on whom we depend? How do we transfigure the top-heavy, carbon-choked machinery of colonial-capitalist governance into a network that’s nimble, agile, flexible, and open to the needs of all its constituents?

Let’s explore these questions together.

Feverish World Follow-Up Search Conference: November 30

How can the Burlington area respond creatively to climate change?

On the heels of a very successful symposium, we will be hosting a one-day mini-search conference to further the goals of bringing together the arts, the sciences, the academy, and the broader community in response to the multiple crises connected to climate change. Join us in community as we consider what we can do in the Burlington area to continue to meet the social and ecological challenges of the coming decades.

The goal of a search conference is to provide a structured opportunity for interested participants to deliberate over a desirable future goal and to develop a plan for achieving that goal. The event is free and open to the public.

Friday, November 30
3:30-5:00 and 5:15-6:45
John Dewey Lounge
Old Mill Building, 94 University Place, Burlington

All are welcome to participate in one or both segments.

"The Politics of Gaia" keynote available to be watched

Feverish World’s Burack Keynote Lecture by Bruno Latour, featuring Vermont poet-laureate Chard deNiord, historian of literature Robert Boschman, Molly Ruprecht speaker and artist Torkwase Dyson, and NPR’s Steve Paulson, can now be watched on YouTube, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTeNn_mxhwk

Here’s the program:

0’00”: Introductory comments by Adrian Ivakhiv

9’50”: “Dispatch from Gaia” by Chard deNiord

16’00”: “Dispatches from Gaia” by Bruno Latour

1’01’20”: Panel discussion, featuring Robert Boschman, Torkwase Dyson, and Bruno Latour, moderated by Steve Paulson (with questions from audience)

The Politics of Gaia - Bruno Latour, PhD, with Adrian Ivakhiv (introduction), Chard deNiord (poetry), Steve Paulson (facilitation), Robert Boschman (discussant), Torkwase Dyson (discussant)

Feverish World is almost here (pre-symposium begins)

The pre-symposium events have begun with the launching of the ScreenWorks video series, displayed on monitors in the hallways of the University of Vermont’s new Cohen Hall for Integrative Creative Arts. This week students and other volunteers are helping Nele Azevedo with the construction of 1,000 ice figures for Minimum Monument.

Registration is now available for multiple events including Pauline Jennings’ “Seeking Nourishment in a Feverish World” (her work pictured below), both from the Registration page and from the Program.

Elizabeth Seyler’s article in Seven Days presents more about the symposium. Other details, including an updated Program, have been added to this web site and to our Facebook event page, Instagram account, and Press Gallery page.

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Feverish World is approaching...

“Feverish World 2018-2068: Arts and Sciences of Collective Survival” is rapidly approaching. A tentative program is available here and the list of speakers and featured guests is being updated regularly.

FW Logo designed by Jonathan Harris

We now have some 40 artists preparing TentWorks, which will be displayed indoors and (mostly) outdoors at UVM campus and around town. Registration will soon be available for a few of the events, including Pauline Jennings’ performative riddle-walk through the city and Anne Bourne’s Deep Listening and Community Sounding exercise, as well as for reading TextWorks in advance of the two roundtables (“Art versus Ecocide in a Feverish World” and “Transdisciplinary Strategies for a Feverish World”).

Best of all, Feverish World is entirely free and open to the public. This means that we do not provide much food (good and inexpensive food options will be available) nor any housing for visitors coming from out of town. We recommend the usual places for finding accommodations (Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Priceline, et al.). If there is enough interest, we will try to set up a list for potential homestays (“artists visiting artists,” “scholars visiting scholars,” “activists visiting activists”… that sort of thing). Let us know if you are interested by writing to ecoculture@uvm.edu with “Homestays” in the Subject line.

We look forward to seeing you here in October!

Feverish World logo by Jonathan Harris, 2018.

In Production

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UVM undergraduate Anabel Sosa interviews Win Smith, the owner and CEO of the Sugarbush Resort in Warren, VT. Her research focuses on the impact that climate change has on ski areas and the surrounding communities, and will be shot and edited into a short documentary with support from the Ecoculture Lab's Ecomedia Mentor Program.

UVM Earth Week Gala

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To UVM students, faculty, and staff: The ENVS 195 Environmental Literature, Arts & Media class will be hosting an Earth Week Eco-Arts Gala Exhibition, to take place on Wednesday April 18 at the Silver Maple Ballroom in the Davis Center, 10 am to 4:30 pm.

If you are working on, or have recently completed, any environmentally oriented art work in any medium -- literature, visual art, music/sound art, theater, dance, performance, new media, mixed media, et al -- and would like to have it included in the exhibition, please let us know about it,

so that we can consider including it in the exhibition.

And if you are interested in helping to organize it, promote it, or otherwise make it a lively and enjoyable event, please also let us know. (Offers of live music and performance welcome!)

Thanks,

Adrian Ivakhiv (aivakhiv@uvm.edu) Lisa Liotta (Lisa.Liotta@uvm.edu) Finn Yarbrough (Finn.Yarbrough@uvm.edu)

DOMINION

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https://vimeo.com/206512288  

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM), having once attracted a diverse population from around the globe, still struggles to recover from the collapse of the industry that fueled its growth. This industry contributed to Canada’s highest rates of cancer and other chronic illness when it created one of the worst environmental disasters in North America. Yet the departure of the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation triggered an economic disaster as well, fracturing the CBRM’s vibrant social mosaic and tempting some to dream of its return. To visit the CBRM today is to witness the result of hundreds of million dollars in remediation, and the city stands as a testament to the strength of its people. Yet beneath the earth lies a parallel city, an underworld of dreams, a bringer of prosperity and of death.

There are unsteady boundaries between nature and culture, the landscape and its people. When dominion over nature becomes oppression of the human body and soul, the key to both social and environmental resilience may be turned by the same hand.