Hanauer Seminar 2020-21: Environments in the 21st Century

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Sabine Wilke, Hanauer Seminar 2020-21: Environments in the 21st Century :: Credit: Erin Gilbert
Sabine Wilke, Joff Hanauer Distinguished Professor for Western Civilization - The Joff Hanauer Endowment for Excellence in Western Civilization was established through a gift from Seattle businessman and philanthropist Jerry Hanauer, in memory of his son.
Xin Peng: Technicolor negative of the Chinese garden in The Toll of the Sea (USA 1922, Chester M. Franklin). Credit: UCLA Film & Television Archive. Photograph by Barbara Flueckiger.
Xin Peng is a Ph.D. candidate in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, and the current Managing Editor of Feminist Media Histories: An International Journal.
Josh Losoya: "The Hanauer seminar has proven a wonderful space to explore interdisciplinary, topical ideas related to central issues around the topic of the Anthropocene.”
Aaron Carpenter is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Germanics
Carpenter discussing Jacques Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other with a dog
Michael Ball-Blakely has found much in the Hanauer Seminar that is relevant to his work, conversations—particularly by fellow seminar member Erin Gilbert—on the historical significance of enclosure have contributed to the ideas driving chapter 3.
Erin Gilbert is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Washington.
Erin Gilbert: Relationality and precarity in regards to honey bees, defying domestic/wild binaries
Kaitlyn Boulding is a 5th year PhD candidate in the Department of Classics
The Deluge
The Flood

Environments in the 21st Century: Migration, Climate, Extinction, In/humanness, Non-Humans and Beyond

 This year-long seminar was structured around the idea that the concept of the Anthropocene challenges us to rethink our basic humanistic values: the centrality of speech for human expression, rational thought, the ability to reason and communicate, the demand for freedom, democracy, justice and human rights, and the creation of cultural expressions based on enlightenment values.

In close consultation with the seminar participants, we examined issues such as global migration, climate change, extinction, cultural and biological diversity, environmental justice, sustainability, the agency of nature, and the need for rethinking human and nonhuman relations, from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

In Fall we analyzed Classical flood narratives, worked through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, read work by the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, debated “Animals and the Frontier of Citizenship,” and attended a colloquium on “Bugs & Beasts Before the Law.”

In Winter we discussed Anna Tsing’s Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene, David Nybert’s Animal Rights/Human Rights, and Derrida’s The Monolingualism of the Other. We had two visitors. One was Alenda Chang from UCSB who was sharing her work on Playing Nature: Ecology in Video Games, and Mark Usher from the University of Vermont with whom we debated Plato’s Pigs and other Ruminations: Ancient Guides to Living with Nature.

In Spring we met with Jan Zwicky from the University of Victoria (on Zoom, of course) and discussed her book Alkibiades' Love: Essays in Philosophy, and debated Michael Marder’s Plant Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. Finally, we went on a nature walk in the UW Botanical Gardens.

Please read the student testimonials below to hear from their perspective! I am so thankful to them for giving me a chance to learn from them.

Xin Peng is a Ph.D. candidate in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, and the current Managing Editor of Feminist Media Histories: An International Journal. Her dissertation examines the ways in which racial and orientalist thinking informed the development of media technologies and the formation of cinematic aesthetics in the interwar period of American cinema. One of the threads she is tracing in the genealogy of orientalist discourses is how the notion of Eastern culture's "inherent closeness to nature" was used to naturalize and capitalize the then-novel natural color cinematography in the 1920s and 1930s. Being interested in the broader and transhistorical entanglement between nature, media technologies, and different forms of embodiment, she organized a joint-event with the Body and Media Graduate Research Cluster in which Prof. Alenda Chang from the University of California Santa Barbara was invited to the seminar to talk about her new book, Playing Nature: Ecology in Video Games

Josh Losoya is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communication. His dissertation uses the archetype of the “hipster” to explore how a fixation with an ironic and negative mode of communication can hinder the persuasive power of otherwise sound ethical claims. While the “hipster” stereotypically adheres to certain environmental claims (e.g. fixed gear bikes and veganism can help address issues of climate change), a public perception of “pretense” and the pejorative nature of the subculture’s name suggest a failure to persuade those who still identify with mainstream consumer culture.  Hanauer discussions from readings such as Dipesh Chakrabarti’s “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other, and the preface of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit have all contributed to this work by unpacking the tensions in navigating issues that are universal, irrespective of human difference, such as climate change, in a discourse that must acknowledge the universal and the different alike.

Aaron Carpenter is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Germanics. He is teaching composition in the English Department. His area of interest includes, translation studies, post-colonial theory, minority and migrant literature, and trauma studies. He is currently working on his dissertation tentatively called “Rajžaliteratur – Examining the Use of Fremdwörter by South-Slavic Authors in German,” which examines who writers from former Yugoslavia and Carinthia, Austria use foreign words to name traumatic experiences that they, or their community experienced and which had been ignored by those in power. While his background has seemingly little to do with ecocriticism, the many discussions on animal rights and environmental issues showed how these topics share many concerns in common. They take unique approaches to examine similar issues. His Hanauer project was to discuss Jacques Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other which brought to light an understanding how ideas about language and identity can often be imposed by those around you. He also found the discussion with Mark Usher about his book Plato’s Pigs and Other Ruminations delightful, especially hearing how someone with a background in Classics and an interest in ecocriticism reinvented his career mid-way through it.

Michael Ball-Blakely is a PhD candidate in the department of Philosophy. This academic year he has been working as a research assistant for the Program on Ethics. His research is on social and political philosophy, with an emphasis on migration. In addition, he has research interests in self-respect and meaningful work, climate justice, and the nature of ideal theory.

His dissertation focuses on immigration and its relationship with domestic and global economic justice. In chapter 3, he engages in the debate surrounding freedom of movement and equal opportunity. Contrary to the dominant view, restrictions on mobility do not merely trap people in undesirable opportunity sets. Instead, such restrictions help create these very undesirable opportunities by ensuring that high-income countries do not bear the costs—high rates of immigration—that would otherwise result. In chapter 4 he argues that skill-selection policies are unjust. First, insofar as the metrics of value used in many skill-selection policies—education, skilled work, and economic security—track the markers of low-socioeconomic status, skill-selection can exacerbate existing status harms. Second, skill-selection both depends upon and reinforces failures of equal opportunity. On the one hand, the need for skill-selection depends upon a failure to provide the tools needed for low-socioeconomic status citizens to pursue the education and training required to fill these positions. On the other hand, by securing reliable access to already educated and trained immigrants, skill-selection disincentivizes (otherwise expensive) policies designed to promote equal opportunity. While he has found much in the Hanauer Seminar that is relevant to his work, conversations—particularly by fellow seminar member Erin Gilbert—on the historical significance of enclosure have contributed to the ideas driving chapter 3.

Erin Gilbert is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Washington. She has been a teaching assistant for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, and the English Department. Her research explores more-than-human narratives of displacement and precarity in twentieth century literature written in Russian and Spanish. In her dissertation, she examines the material and figural presence of feral species in literatures situated within ecological edges or margins.

The spirit of intellectual curiosity and spirit of interdisciplinary exchange that has animated the Hanauer Graduate Fellows Seminar has supported her ongoing engagement with classical and philosophical understandings of diverse animacies and the claims of multispecies relationships. This engagement has refined her attention to imaginaries of domestic and wilderness spaces, honing her analysis of the feral species in between.

Kaitlyn Boulding is a 5th year PhD candidate in the Department of Classics.

"I am broadly interested in gender and sexuality studies, and the reception of ancient myths in contemporary poetry and the themes of craft technologies and myth making in Ancient Greek and Roman literature. My dissertation analyzes Plato’s cosmological dialogues, the Timaeus and Critias, in relation to Hesiod’s poetic corpus. In this project I considers how Plato puts his philosophical dialogues in conversation and competition with the repertoire of poetry performed at religious festivals, the technique of etymology as a way of making meaning, and the relationship between myths of the creation of the human body and craft practices.

Taking part in the Hanauer seminar wonderfully enriched my 2020-2021 academic year. The biggest challenge I faced this year was the intellectual isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was grateful to be a part of the 2020-2021 Hanauer fellowship because it allowed me to have exciting interdisciplinary conversations throughout the year. I looked forward to each of our meetings this year and am grateful for all that I learned.

I had the pleasure of leading the Hanauer seminar three times. For our first meeting, we read ancient flood myths, drawn from Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, and Plato’s Timaeus. Throughout this conversation we tracked the ways that these myths of pre-Anthropocentric ages employed the themes of natural disasters, passing on knowledge, and renewal. Later in the year, we read from Dr. Mark Usher’s monograph, Plato’s Pigs and other Ruminations, Ancient Guides to Living with Nature (2020). Through the magic of zoom we were able to invite Dr. Usher to have a stimulating discussion from the Works and Days Farm, his home in Vermont. We found Dr. Usher’s concept of “environmental philology” especially evocative for thinking about how texts can intersect with a study of the anthropocene. Finally, I invited the Canadian philosopher and poet, Dr. Jan Zwicky, to discuss her work on “lyric philosophy” and “lyric ecology” with the seminar. I have long admired and studied Dr. Zwicky’s work and it was such a pleasure to have her join us over zoom from her home on Quadra island. Dr. Zwicky’s insights into the relationship between myth and philosophical inquiry will be especially helpful to my own dissertation research."