Uninhabiting the Corrosive Littoral of the Anthropocene in the Levelled Sands of Being

Justin Clemens

‘The poetry of earth is never dead’ — John Keats

Like many other people, I believe we are living in the end times — at least for the earth as a habitable place for humans and, indeed, for so many other species. So much, so many things seem to be falling apart. The media speaks of microplastics in the darkest trenches of the sea, of melting icecaps, of other effects of accelerating global warming. Lakes are choked by algae blooms, great reefs are bleaching like sun-blasted bones, uncountable species are being driven to death in what has been called ‘the sixth great extinction.’ One report informs us that the oceans will soon be propitious for jellyfish alone: anything with a skeleton or exoskeleton will soon find the rising acid waters pitilessly corroding their husks. Series of implicated and irreversible markers of this earthly degradation concatenate in minatory patterns of systemic obliteration. Science has given us several new names for this situation, including the now-notorious term ‘the Anthropocene.’

The term ‘Anthropocene’ perhaps made its most influential millennial scientific appearance in a brief article titled ‘Geology of mankind’ by Paul J. Crutzen. ‘For the past three centuries,’ Crutzen writes, ‘the effects of humans on the global environment have escalated… It seems appropriate to assign the term ‘Anthropocene’ to the present, in many ways human-dominated geological epoch, supplementing the Holocene — the warm period of the past 10-12 millennia. The Anthropocene could be said to have started in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when analyses of air trapped in polar ice showed the beginning of growing global concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane. This date also happens to coincide with James Watt’s design of the steam engine in 1784.’[1] Since being coined, the term ‘Anthropocene’ has itself enjoyed an extraordinary fortune, as much contested as celebrated.

Initially intended to designate the epoch during which the effects of the species given the Greek philosophical name of ‘Man’ (anthropos) entered the geological record, we now find an astonishing range of proposed dates for its inception and extension — ranging from very ancient to very modern times — as well as a sense that the Anthropocene, rather than nominating a period, should rather designate an event of some kind, much in the same way that Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of being ‘strong enough to break the history of humanity in two pieces.’[2] Moreover, the term has been accompanied by, or is at least coterminous with, a kind of turn in the humanities towards so-called ‘new materialisms,’ actor network theories, and object-oriented philosophies such as OOO and speculative realism.[3] ‘How can ontology take hold of a fart?’ Jacques Derrida once asked, although he was presumably not thinking of how Amazonian deforestation and bovine methane are accelerating climate change.[4]

Because, as Peter Sloterdijk points out, scholars are constitutionally liable to prosecuting imaginary trials of absent agents, the hunt has been on for identifying, exhuming, judging and re-executing the real criminals who perpetrated the Anthropocene, in a kind of hallucinatory frenzy of police discourse. Hence we now regularly encounter rival or revisionist propositions, such as ‘capitolocene,’ ‘plantationocene,’ ‘technocene,’ ‘Eurocene,’ ‘neganthropocene,’ and even ‘white supremacy-scene.’[5] For her part, Donna Haraway has recently proposed the ‘Chthulucene,’ ‘not named after SF writer H.P. Lovecraft’s misogynist racial-nightmare monster Cthulhu (note spelling difference), but rather after the diverse earth-wide tentacular powers and forces and collected things with names like Naga, Gaia, Tangaroa (burst from water-full Papa), Terra, Haniyasu-hime, Spider Woman, Pachamama, Oya, Gorgo, Raven, A’akuluujjusi, and many many more.’a href="#ftn6">[6] From the same scholar who once famously declared ‘I’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess,’ it seems it’s time to turn back to a networked postmodern pantheon of maternal deities as a strategy for imaginative redemption. Partially this is because, as Thomas Ford once remarked to me, the Anthropocene is itself already an aesthetic — and not really a scientific — category.[7]

But such aesthetic anti-apocalyptic apocalypticism, with its numinous invocation of trans-anthropogenic forces and allegedly-empirical levelling of life seems to underplay four new factors about the current situation. Firstly, modern climate science is not phenomenological; that is, what we are told that we are undergoing is not really experienced as such, whether by formal apprehensions or by the avant-garde shattering of form, but is only available filtered in and through the highly abstract technical languages of diverse scientific research. The event of the anthropocene is, to speak like Gilles Deleuze, imperceptible. Secondly, traditional apocalypses were always to-come or coming, were liable to be deferred or contested by prophecy. This apocalypse has already happened, inverting the direction of time. Our lives are no longer causes or inhibitors of Judgement Day(s), but at most tributaries of its effects. Thirdly, this apocalypse is not the end of the planet or cosmos, only the end of its capacity to welcome us: the Anthropocene disappoints the end.[8] Fourthly, the revelation of the Anthropocene is that ‘man’ has not only signed ‘his’ own death-warrant, but that the species anthropos was a suicidal species.

Imperceptible, accomplished, disappointing, suicidal: strung out between extermination and extinction, submitted to this quadruple torque of knowledge-effects, the discourse of the Anthropocene thereby so easily regresses to mysticism in the guise of fomenting a new axial morality. Do we have any imaginative resources for rethinking our deleterious situation otherwise? I would like to supplement Astarte Rowe’s brilliant institution of a submerged workshop for the unicellular organism Mediolus corona, denominated by the traditional binomial nomenclature of modern European naturalists, by adverting to the possibility of ‘inorganic life,’ here represented by a meditation upon… sand.

In his recent Il bene nelle cose, the young Italian philosopher Emmanuele Coccia asserts: ‘The most ancient human things of which testimony remains are stones. Indeed, it is in stones that the human intelligence departed the space of interiority and consciousness and incarnated itself in the world of things. Whether used, worked upon or sculpted, the stone is the primordial object, the most ancient vehicle of the human spirit, the first form of culture … there is a mineralogy of the spirit that still awaits being written.’[9] If Coccia offers us a geological genealogy of the use of stone and stones as publicity — from graves to monuments to screens — which, as he shows, has always been an essentially moral phenomenon, his thesis would come as no surprise to the European Romantics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for whom there was perhaps no better material upon which to expatiate interminably.

This assertion may come as a surprise, for the Romantics famously render history as the agent of revelation-in-withdrawal, the inexorable power of alienated spirit working through and working out its necessary negations in time. Contemporaneously, new scientific disciplines emerge, such as archaeology and geology, which scour the most distant pasts for knowledge. Significantly enough, archaeology and geology were the bastard love-children of the mining enterprises of early-modern Europe, whose lineaments can perhaps best be discerned in the great manifesto that is Agricola’s De Re Metallica (1556). Agricola there glorifies the economic and technological benefits of systematic mineral extraction, as well as its practical and intellectual dignity.[10] It is primarily to Agricola that we can date the beginnings of the now-ubiquitous justifications of modern industrial extractive technologies, with their rationalistic moral alibis, instructional handbooks, and simultaneous addresses to powerful patrons, to men of science, to economic adventurers, and paeans to the social good. The postmodernity of Silicon Valley begins in Renaissance German mines.

It is striking that archaeology and geology, insofar as they escape reduction to pragmatic techniques of excavation, extraction, and expropriation, divide and share the intellectual project of restoring a kind of discontinuous spirit. Cosmic forces created and shaped the rocks and stones of our world itself, before lapsing into abeyance or bursting out elsewhere; ancient civilizations created and shaped the cultures of our humanity, before their own inevitable destruction or transmogrification. So geology seeks to reconstruct the ontogenesis of our own natural milieux; archaeology, the cultural milieux of vanished hominids: together, they seek to bring together past and present, nature and culture, in a durational web of the in-organic All. If History constitutionally considers every empirical site an aggregate of the living and the dead, the residual and the emergent, the anthropological and its others, both archaeology and geology contribute integrally to this project insofar as they seek to ensure our paradoxical continuity with the absolutely dead, in the form of offering non-linear materialist accounts of implicative spirit. It is in this context that the enigma of sand becomes paramount.

For scientists and philosophers can’t entirely ignore the grains of sand in their underpants, as a kind of paradigm of the work of time. Steven Connor asserts in the course of an incantation of the mutability of sable qualities, that ‘[s]and is not only temporary, it is also the most temporised form of matter. It is the image or allegory of time, shifting, yet unshiftable.’[11] Noah Heringman, in his Romantic Rocks, Romantic Geology, is so caught up with the rocks themselves that he can even quote William Blake’s ‘the Cities & Villages of Albion became Rock & Sand Unhumanized’ as exemplary of a ‘relationship between the rocky cosmos to vegetable culture,’ immediately setting the sand aside, as if it were fundamentally continuous with the rock.[12] But sand is precisely not, is no longer, rock. For his part, Thomas McFarland invokes the epoch’s evocations of sand precisely as what he calls ‘aphycton,’ a logical operation of collocation without influence. He too cites Blake’s poetic diatribe ‘Mock on Mock on,’ in which ‘abstinence sows sand all over,’ as well as the same author’s Auguries of Innocence. But he also invokes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘one thought’ that ‘includes all thought, in the sense that a grain of sand includes the universe’; J.G. Fichte’s ‘you cannot conceive even the position of a grain of sand other than it is at the present’; and David Hume’s ‘the idea of a grain of sand is not distinguishable, nor separable into twenty, much less into a thousand, ten thousand, or an infinite number of different ideas.’[13] Note that in none of these cases does sand appear as such: Connor celebrates sand through rhapsodic delocalizations; Heringman suavely subsumes sand to rocks; McFarland makes sand the exemplum of a comparison which short-circuits the infinite and the infinitesimal, as its own materiality is obscured, coming to share its logic with motes of dust.

Let me note the incipient petrologocentrism of such geological tropologies. Against these attempts of implicative spirit, we find that another major tendency of Romantic science was its chemical isolationism, the drive to isolate the primal elements that experience itself knows only as natural substances. The animus of such isolationism moves against the solidarity of phenomenology and organic totalisation, towards the liberation of material inhuman indiscernibles. This work is a work of purification as much as of solitude, and such purification sets its face against received nature, struggling antinomically upstream in a quest to unleash within existence the fundamental components of existence. As such, it is inherently ahistorical, even antihistorical. Its mythical progenitors are Prometheus and Faust, those great demonic criminals of supra-natural technology. Yet sand does not figure a divine fire or demonic summons, but the emblem of what Jean-Paul Sartre would later call the ‘practico-inert.’ Outside of prosopopeia and associated figurations, sand embodies and exemplifies a multiple criminal solitude par excellence, the crime of minimal independent existence without interiorized discrimination.[14]

Still, when you live in a silicon-valley economy, what could be better than a desert? In 1789, the great, if ill-fated chemist Antoine Lavoisier predicted that quartz would unlock the secrets of a new element, only a little before Mme La Guillotine caught up with him.[15] Just under two decades later, Humphry Davy possibly, if unknowingly, isolated that substance for the first time;[16] in 1823 the Swede Jons Jakob Berzelius identified a stuff he named silicium,[17] the first time elemental silicon was prepared, which Joseph Louis Gay Lussac and Louis Jacques Thénard had also attempted to obtain by the same method in 1809;[18] the Scot Thomas Thomson had baptized the element with its current name in 1817.[19] Now we know it’s the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust, and the seventh (or eighth) most abundant element in the universe. Still, in a certain sense, silicon remains one of the many children of Romanticism. Perhaps it is already in the sands of Romantic poetry that we can get a glimpse of the unrepresentable physiognomy of this powerful spirit, the messianic Silicon God.[20] Such a god would be the patron of silicon-based, not carbon-based, life.

One of the great Romantic poets who was perhaps sensitive to this possibility is none other than Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here is Ozymandias in its entirety, which remains one of his most famous poems:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias was first published in The Examiner on 11 January 1818, under the moniker ‘Glirastes,’ supposedly a portmanteau name combining the Latin glis (dormouse) with the Greek erastes (lover). Percy’s pet name for his wife Mary Shelley — herself the author of Frankenstein, one of the greatest works ever concerning artificial life — was apparently ‘The Dormouse.’ The dormouse is also a creature of Aesopian fable, which is perhaps most often interpreted to stand in for the little people.[21] The occasional cause of this poem is well-known. Just after the announcement of the British Museum’s acquisition of a fragment of a statue of Ramesses II, Shelley wrote the sonnet in competition with Horace Smith in 1817. As J. Gwyn Griffiths points out, whereas many earlier commentators had recognized that, at the time of the sonnet’s writing, Champollion had not yet deciphered the Rosetta Stone (the key to which the latter discovered in 1822), only a few people, such as James Beikie and A.E.P. Weigall, had previously recognized the passage as deriving from Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, I, Ch. 47.[22]

The poetic sands familiar from the aforementioned poems of Blake or, indeed, of John Milton are moralized images: materialist matter that blinds its adherents in the storm of science, as against the insights given by true spiritual revelation. But Shelley’s sands are different from Blake and Milton’s. They are, in fact, revolutionary sands, not only in their alleged metaphysical significance but in their material non-sense. Certainly, Blake and Milton were radicals if not revolutionaries — yet their sands were not. Shelley, by contrast, present the sands as the very end of things. The poem accordingly takes the form of a report of a witnessing. In this, it at once alludes to the typical establishing operations of a Platonic dialogue at the very moment that it functions as an anti-Platonic poem. Ozymandias, further, invokes the Epicurean theory of the atomic constitution of being, as it arrays the lone and level sands of the empty desert against the modest if privileged sociability of the verdant Epicurean garden. It alludes to the powers of the Longinian sublime, as it flattens the characteristic images of sublimity — wild storms, snowy mountains — to an endless vista of indistinguishable grains. It invokes Judaic and Christian motifs, including the figure of the pharaoh as the paradigm of the godless idolatrous tyrant, but revokes the afterlife, as well as any spiritual transcendence.

Shelley prophecies the end of all world and all earth in sand. The residue, the ruin of the tyrant’s great stone feet, are an index of their own inexorable and imminent disappearance. The present in which the vision is relayed is already an anticipated future-made-now, the ruin or waste of any possible world, including ours, rendered an alien-future-pastness-in-the-present. The sand is itself nature-degree-zero, the image, fact, and immanent actuality of an eventless granular waste, where there is no thing left at all.[23] Such sands are a singular plural – not just multiples, but aggregates of aggregates that collapse or render indifferent presentation and representation, confronting the voided heavens above. Givenness is given as itself without reduction. The sands are lone – not as a self or subject might be solitary, but because they constitute a total flattening of all being, without any other to set off their difference. They are level, not just as something flattened, but as an indifferent infinity without variegation. Time has been radicalized as an absolute delocalizer – and equalizer – of all place, until time itself must cease insofar as no further transformation is possible. This is a utopia of sand and sky without any life, without divinity or mortals, without objects, perhaps even without any real being. G.W.F. Hegel says that ‘the one and the void constitute the first existence of being-for-itself.’[24] But this is the beginning for Hegel; for Shelley, this is also the End.[25]

So the end of all things would the end of art, too, one might think. No humans, no happenings, no history. Yet there are indications that something else is up with Shelley’s sands. Coleridge frequently had recourse to the image of The Aeolian Harp, for instance in his early poem of that name:
And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of All?

Shelley, too, liked the image of this instrument in his verse, for instance in the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty or in Ode to the West Wind, where the poet is compared to such a harp through which the wind blows. Moreover, in his A Defence of Poetry, Shelley asserts: ‘Sounds as well as thoughts have relations, both between each other and towards that which they represent, and a perception of the order of those relations has always been found connected with a perception of the order of the relations of thoughts.’[26] Will there still be sounds or thoughts at the end of the universe?

Cymatics is the study of visible sound co-vibration, from the Greek kyma (wave). One of its most important progenitors was Ernst Chladni, whose experiments with sound, repeating those of Robert Hooke from 1680, became famous all over Europe in the late eighteenth century:
Suspending glass plates from their center with a rod, and bowing the edge of the plates as if it was a violin string, Chladni was able to make them vibrate in a sinusoidally periodic mode and emit a loud, pure tone. Chladni discovered that the nodal lines of the pure mode of vibration become safe havens for sand spread on the plate, collecting there, perfectly outlining their otherwise invisible details. With practice, a single plate could be coaxed to generate dozens of different patterns one at a time, each with a different pure frequency.[27]

Let us briefly return to Shelley’s Ozymandias with Chladni’s sand plates in mind. Note the repetition of sounds in the poem, not least the ‘L’s, ‘S’s, and ‘T’s, which resound throughout, aside from the various other alliterations that emerge in local moments. Note too the repetition of the lesses, or suffixes of negation: trunkless, lifeless, boundless. Note too the ‘A’s: ‘I met a traveller from an antique land/Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand…’ Like the sound of the sea within a shell, or, indeed, the susurration of the wind over the sands of the waste, the very breathing of the literal dispositions of the poem anticipates and hastens the revolutionary erosion not only of ‘the things of man’ (to cite Gerard Manley Hopkins), but of the earth itself. The breath of the end in the time of the now helps to hustle matter towards its ultimate fate in indifferent yet just ruination.

If the Medioli coronae make their shells from sands in a process of submarine inhuman organic creativity, the wind on the sands makes thoughts in another, very different process of inhuman inorganic creativity. Even at this end of the world, at the apogee and the abyss designated by the Anthropocene, perhaps it is still possible that art too go on, beyond any of the sites or species with which it has previously been identified...................................... .............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................



[1] Crutzen, Paul J. ‘Geology of mankind,’ Nature 415 (3 January 2002).

[2] Letter to August Strindberg, 8 December 1888.

[3] See, inter alia, Simmons, Laurence. Tuhituhi: William Hodges, Cook’s Painter in the South Pacific (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2011); Cohen, J. J. Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015); Peters, J.D. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2015); Bodei, Remo. The Life of Things, The Love of Things (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015); Shaviro, Steven. The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

[4] See Derrida, Jacques. Glas (Paris: Denoël-Gonthier, 1981).

[5] The first of these terms was apparently coined by Jason Moore and Andreas Malm, the second a communal suggestion by the participants in a discussion at University of Aarhus 2014, the third and fourth by a variety of persons, and the last of these terms was proferred by Nicholas Mirzoeff, cited in Davis, H. and Turpin, E. (eds.), Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies (London: Open Humanities Press, 2015), 24, n. 22. See Haraway, Donna. ‘Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationcene, Chthulucene,’ Environmental Humanities 6 (2015), 159-165.

[6] Ibid., 160. As Haraway notes: ‘The suffix “—cene” proliferates! I risk this overabundance because I am in the thrall of the root meanings of –cene/kainos, namely, the temporality of the thick, fibrous, and lumpy “now,” which is ancient and not.’ Ibid., 163, n. 7.

[7] Personal communication.

[8] Precisely in the sense that Maurice Blanchot remarks that ‘the apocalypse is disappointing.’ See Blanchot, Maurice. Friendship, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997 [1971]).

[9] Coccia, Emmanuele. Il bene nelle cose: la pubblicità come discorso morale (Bologna: Mulino, 2014), 14. I would like to thank Nick Heron for alerting me to this book, and providing an earlier version of the translation.

[10] See Agricola, Georgius. De Re Metallica, trans. Hoover, H. C. and L. H. Hoover (New York: Dover, 1950 [1912]). Herbert Hoover, incidentally, made his fortune in Australian mines before becoming President of the USA (1929-1933). He is perhaps best remembered in an engineering context for the Hoover Dam.

[11] Connor, Steven. ‘The Dust that measures all our time,’ http://stevenconnor.com/sand.html, accessed 1 September 2016.

[12] Heringman, Noah. Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 122.

[13] McFarland, Thomas. ‘Field, Constellation, and Aesthetic Object,’ in Kroeber, Karl and G. W. Ruoff (eds.), Romantic Poetry: Recent Revisionary Criticism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993), 31-32.

[14] ‘Sand’ has a Germanic etymology (ancient Greek amathos); until the early sixteenth-century, ‘sand’ could also mean ‘message’ or ‘send,’ and hence the ambassador ‘Sandman’; there is a particular association with ‘Lybian sands’ already in Chaucer’s House of Fame; sand has been present as particles and numberlessness in English since at least the ninth-century, ‘shore’ since the thirteenth, and grains of sand and desert wastes since the late sixteenth. See the Oxford English Dictionary.

[15] See de Lavoisier, A.-L. Traité élémentaire de chimie: présenté dans un ordre nourveau et d’après les découvertes modernes (Paris: Chez Cuchet, 1789).

[16] Davy, Humphry. ‘Electro-Chemical Researches, on the Decomposition of the Earths; with Observations of the Metals obtained from the alkaline Earths, and on the Amalgam procured from Ammonia,’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 98 (read 30 June 1808), 333-370. As Davy asks, ‘on what do the metallic properties of ammonium depend? Are hydrogene and nitrogene both metals in the aeriform state, at the usual temperatures of the atmosphere, bodies of the same character, as zinc and quicksilver would be in the heat of ignition? Or are these gases, in their common form, oxides, which become metallized by deoxydation? Or are they simple bodies not metallic in their own nature, but capable of composing a metal in their deoxygenated, and an alkali in their oxygenated state?’ Ibid., 362.

[17] Not incidentally, Berzelius invented the system of chemical notation still used today.

[18] See Gay-Lussac, J. L. et Thénard, L. J. Recherches Physico-Chimiques, Vol. 1 (Paris: Chez Deterville, 1811), where they describe their method using potassium: ‘Almost as soon as the potassium is heated, it becomes blue, bursting into flame some time after, is destroyed and transformed into a solid matter of chocolate colour that, with water, always makes a weak bubbling. There is a rapid absorption of gas, and one finds scarcely several parts of hydrogen in the residue.’ Ibid., 313.

[19] ‘There is a rock, which occurs in great abundance in the primitive mountains, sometimes forming immense beds, or even whole mountains: sometimes mixed with other stony bodies, as in granite. This rock is known by the name of quartz… The base of silica has been usually considered as a metal, and called silicium. But as there is not the smallest evidence for its metallic nature, and as it bears a close resemblance to boron and carbon, it is better to class it along with these bodies, and to give it the name of silicon.’ Thomson, Thomas. A System of Chemistry in Four Volumes, Vol. 1 (London: Baldwin, Craddock, and Joy, 1817), 251-252.

[20] Silicon dioxide (SiO2) is silicon’s most common compound, commonly taking the form of sand.

[21] See for example ‘The Cock and the Dormouse,’ a fable of hospitality (a cock prevents the hens from tormenting a dormouse who has arrived in search of an apple, but when the cock checks on the mouse, the latter seems dead because of his diurnal nature), Aesop’s Fables: For the Instruction and Improvement of the Young, Vol. 2 (London: J. Clements, 1834), 299-302.

[22] See Griffiths, John Gwyn. ‘Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and Diodorus Siculus,’ The Modern Language Review 43, no. 1 (January 1948), 80-84.

[23] For, in my view, a rather unfortunate misreading of both the problems of environmental disaster and Romanticism, see Morton, Timothy. ‘Romantic Disaster Ecology: Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth,’ Romantic Circles (2012), https://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/disaster/HTML/praxis.2012.morton.html, accessed 1 September 2016. I also disagree with Ralph Pite’s ‘How Green Were the Romantics?’, although it is true that Shelley did affirm ‘the idea of a self-extinguishing identification of the self with all things.’ Pite, Ralph. ‘How Green Were the Romantics?’ Studies in Romanticism 35, no. 3 (Fall 1996), 363.

[24] Hegel, G. W. F. Science of Logic, trans. and ed. G. di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 135.

[25] See Vince, Gaia. Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made (London: Random House, 2014). E.g., ‘In north China, for example, 24,000 villages have had to be abandoned because of sand-dune incursion, while Nigeria loses 350,000 hectares of cropland to desert each year’; ‘In the Maldives, coastal erosion isn’t just an issue of losing a few metres of coastline every year. The country itself is at stake. Erosion is already having a big impact on the population. Roads and houses are crumbling into the sea, coconut palms are being washed away, and the groundwater has become so polluted with seawater that on many islands it is undrinkable,’ etc. Ibid., 114, 160. See also the unpublished paper by Turnbull, David. ‘How, What, Where, When, Why is Singapore?’ which discusses the extraordinary contemporary hijinks involving ‘sand piracy,’ now familiar to financial, design, and policy experts.

[26] Shelley, Percy. Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, Vol. 1, ed. Mary Shelley (London: Edward Moxon, 1852), 10.

[27] Heller, E. J. Why You Hear What You Hear: An Experiential Approach to Sound, Music and Psychoacoustics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 293. My emphasis. Chladni is also now credited as one of the ‘fathers of meteorite research,’ through his proposal in 1794 that they had an extraterrestrial origin.


Justin Clemens has published extensively on psychoanalysis, contemporary European philosophy, and contemporary Australian art and literature. His recent books include Lacan Deleuze Badiou (Edinburgh UP 2014), with A.J. Bartlett and Jon Roffe; Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy (Edinburgh UP 2013); and Minimal Domination (Surpllus 2011). In addition to his scholarly work, he is well-known nationally as a commentator on Australian art and literature. He is currently Senior Lecturer in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.