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Everyday Anthropocene

Everyday Anthropocene takes its cues from existentialism and Situationism, performing ‘everyday’ objects as uncanny ‘reminders’ of Anthropocene themes. Camus’ (1955) reinterpretation of the myth of Sisyphus introduced a philosophy of the absurd. The myth describes the fate of a self-aggrandising mortal punished for eternity by the gods to an unending cyclical fate of pushing a boulder uphill: an unending and seemingly futile task. The story distils the poignant idea that we need to learn to live with, and indeed welcome, the frustration and ambivalence that is an inescapable aspect of being human.

Such thinking resonates through multiple philosophical schools, where cognizance of life’s futility is brought into mindful practice. The Stoics of Ancient Greece used self-dialogue and meditative practice to focus attention on the present, along with contemplation of death (Sellars 2006). Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths follows the philosophy that all life has suffering, which is caused by human desire; happiness is freedom from desire; moral restrain and self-discipline are pathways to this freedom (Powers 2007). Japanese Samurai subscribed to Bushido, following hagakure – the code of the warrior (Tsunetomo (2002 [1906]) – which included meditating daily on one’s inevitable death. To focus on one’s death is not to fetishise it, or to want to give up living. Rather, contemplation of one’s essential ‘limits’ is helpful for attending to the present. Haraway’s (2016) Chthulucene draws on similar themes by asking us to ‘stay with the trouble’. In a similar way, I interpret the unsettling asymmetries rendered by the Anthropocene as a poignant reminder of the ineffaceable existential limits of the human – both individual and ‘planetary’ – being.

Bringing existential awareness to ‘moments’ encapsulated in everyday objects draws on memento mori: medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality. Such objects are not intended as an answer to the Anthropocene any more than Samurai practices of meditating on death helps to avoid its eventuality. Rather, Everyday Anthropocene objects serve as prompts, reminding us to connect both conceptually and affectively to the difficult-to-discern planetary conditions unfolding around us; conditions that can be easy to forget when our attention is captured by more immediate distractions.

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