At Home in the World: Perspectives Ancient and Modern on a Changing Nature
Organized by Gabriel Sessions and Sara Grossman
Thursday, April 25, 2019
VCAM, Haverford College
In her essay “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons,” Zadie Smith, one of the leading authors in contemporary fiction, laments that “there is the scientific and ideological language for what is happening to the weather, but there are hardly any intimate words.”
The "At Home in the World: Perspectives Ancient and Modern on a Changing Nature" symposium untangles the meaning of Smith’s call for “intimate words” and strives to answer it. It showcases student work that questions how we can imagine care, family, home, hospitality, kinship, justice, and, indeed, intimacy, given the fragility, or the antagonism, or the simple interference of a nature many have understood as a setting secondary to human activity. Students will pose this question to contextualize, together, their own anxieties and meditations on environment in an age of climate change, with the aid of visiting experts, contemporary artists, and scholars in the environmental humanities. Together, we will also ask what comes next.
Projects on display will take many forms: a timeline will organize events from past human-earth encounters that speak to the long history of entanglements between humans and their environments, and reveal the constant struggle and stewardship that is part of the evolution of biospheric life on earth. A roundtable discussion of literary and musical evocations of environment will answer the question of how the non-human may speak to us when it becomes more than a background for human activity. And an evening of performances across the arts will transpose the intimacy Smith calls for into the utopian space in which performance affects reality with its “what if?,” involving audience and artist alike in a shared imagine of new possibilities.
More information: gsessions [at] haverford.edu + sgrossman1 [at] brynmawr.edu
Supported by the John B. Hurford '60 Center for the Arts and Humanities’ Tuttle Creative Residencies Program, the Haverford College Department of English, and the Bryn Mawr College Department of Environmental Studies
All events in VCAM Presentation Lounge unless otherwise noted. View Campus Map
11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
"Meditations on Environmental Time & Stewardship in the Anthropocene"
Sara Grossman, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Bryn Mawr College
"Environmental Humanities 203"
"The Sound and Text of Climate Change"
Gabriel Sessions, Visiting Assistant Professor of English, Haverford College
"Environments in Literature and Music since 1900"
Lydia Trigili, HC '21
"From the End of the World: Electric Light Orchestra's Time and a Retrofuturistic Approach to Environmental Catastrophe"
Fitz Dougherty, HC '21
"Faulkner's The Bear, an Elegy for Development in the Mississippi Woods
Angie Petrichenko, HC '21
"What is a Tree? How an Arboretum Morphs the Definitions of Nature"
Shirin Sabety, BMC '22
"Hyperabstract Painting and the Metaphysical Landscape"
Hanna Kopits, HC '21
"Inspired by Watership Down: Animal Miniseries" for digital projection
"Does the Cliff Have a Face?"
Plenary Talk by Paul Saint-Amour, Professor in the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania
Emmanuel Levinas, theorist of the face-to-face as the central ethical encounter, famously said “I don’t know if a snake has a face.” If not even a snake is possessed of ethical faciality, what about the fossil of a snake? Or the fossil of a trilobite embedded in a cliff? Yet as little as one might imagine being in a face-to-face ethical encounter with the permineralized remains of a millennia-dead member of an extinct species of Arthropod, such encounters have happened. This talk begins with two such encounters in nineteenth-century Britain, one in William Dyce’s painting Pegwell Bay: A Recollection of October 5th, 1858 (1858-6), the other in Thomas Hardy’s early novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873). How, I’ll ask, might fossils not only open a portal to deep time but also prompt, in the beholder, a profound ethical and affective disorientation in the present? And how, broadening out to recent fiction by Ben Lerner and Richard Powers, might we understand the human history of seeing faces in vegetable, mineral, and elemental worlds as something other than rank anthropocentrism—as an attempt to enter into a circuit of recognition and obligation with the nonhuman, even with the inorganic?
At Home in the World | World Premiere
Composed by Scott Ordway
Performed by Aaron Stewart
with additional performances by students in "Environments in Literature and Music since 1900":
Ryan Totaro, HC '22
"Once Upon a Time in Egdon Heath: Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native as Cinematic Western"
Domenic Bellino, HC '21
"Yellow Tormentil and Purple Bloom," for single performer
Lourdes Taylor, HC '21, and Aszana Lopez-Bell
"Integral," for dance and solo violin
Joe Gentile, HC '22
"An Animal's Heartbeat," for guitar and voice
The At Home in the World symposium presents an evening of performances dealing, most generally, with anxiety about the future. Through movement, music, film, and poetry, the artists you will see embody what it means and how it feels to inherit an environment whose capacity to support life may be diminishing.
Their pieces will meditate on how mood is shaped by place, and on how familiar rituals of life like childhood, love, marriage, travel, or the experience of home may become, or already have become, different.
Ultimately, their art troubles our definitions of the human, takes up the question of how to speak for the animal, vegetable, or mineral, and awakens us to new obligations, new problems, or new optimisms.
The night will culminate with the world premiere of a composition for solo saxophone, “At Home in the World,” by New York Times-acclaimed composer Scott Ordway, written specially for the symposium.