You Say Tomato, I Say A Thousand-Year Drought: An Interview with Roy Scranton

Chris Holdaway



“Roy Scranton gets it,” writes McKenzie Wark in a blurb for Roy’s new book, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (City Lights, 2015). “He knows in his bones that this civilization is over. He knows it is high time to start again the human dance of making some other way to live.”

Scranton probably first popped onto the radar for a lot of people back in November of 2013 with a New York Times opinion piece titled “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene” (subtly different). Not pulling any punches, the gist was that rhetoric of how to mitigate climate change and generally avoid bringing an apocalypse down upon our own heads should, nay, must give way to understanding that this civilization is already dead. We already live in the ruins. We’re already zombies. A few years down the track, still in the ruins, still staggering undead, the article has been expanded into a compact & hard-hitting book exploring the culture that got us here, & what culture might do from here on out.

The “Anthropocene” is an idea that has recently been gaining significant cultural currency, naming a geological epoch in which the main driving force of the planetary system is the human (anthropos). Much more than the notion of “climate change,” this term puts our meddling in the same ballpark as something like the “Late Jurassic” period of your favourite dinos, and (before you get some swell feeling of grand human achievement) points to the fact that the effects/defecation of our carbon culture may very well hang around for millions of years, even if we all kill ourselves now.

A veteran of the war in Iraq, Scranton traversed his tour of duty with daily meditation on his own demise, pre-emptively doing the worst he could to himself in his own mind. Yet instead of simply returning home afterwards, he found himself reliving the experiences of Baghdad’s totalled infrastructure during Hurricanes Katrina & Sandy, and Fukushima; seeing our future’s precarious norm. It is this meditation on inevitable death, learning (how) to die, that Scranton’s work argues we must now engage with, not as individuals, but as a civilization.

Currently a PhD candidate at Princeton, Roy kindly took time to talk with Chris Holdaway about his new book, the Anthropocene, & the demands of this weird era on our literature.


learningCHRIS HOLDAWAY: I’ve been working on my ‘elevator pitch’ for the Anthropocene. I see it as an idea to turn people on to, something like Leary & Ginsberg touring their psychedelics around to various notables. How would you first communicate why it is an important idea, and how it is useful, to someone unfamiliar with the notion? One thing I often have to work at explaining is how it’s not simply a fancy way of saying the same thing as “climate change,” but rather is a broader idea that includes anthropogenic climate change among one of its many facets.

ROY SCRANTON: You’re asking a couple different questions here, and before I answer them I have to first identify the implicit distinction between why I think the idea is important and useful, and how I would communicate that to someone else.

So, why I think “the Anthropocene” is important or useful as a concept: Number one, it moves the problem of global warming from a weather scale (“If the planet’s getting warmer, why’s it still snowing in February, huh?”) to a geological scale. By addressing “the anthropocene” rather than climate change, we make the point that we’re not just making it warmer, we’re fundamentally altering the physical dynamics that make life on Earth possible. As Margaret Atwood recently wrote, it’s not climate change, it’s everything change.​ The concept also shifts focus from the effects (heat) to the cause (humans moving carbon from the ground into the air and oceans). The key reason the concept is important and useful is because it reframes how we think about global warming and our current moment.

The second main reason the concept is useful is because it identifies a period, not a process. Discussion about global warming continues to buzz uselessly around what we need to do to stop it, what’s happening at COP21 in Paris, what the Pope thinks, how capitalism is going to save us, whatever. The fact is that dangerous levels of warming are already locked in. We’re already fucked. What’s more, the odds of the almost two hundred nations on the Earth coming up with a comprehensive, binding, and immediate plan to decarbonize the global economy by replacing fossil fuels with nuclear, wind, photovoltaic, and hydroelectric energy are statistically zero. It’s just not gonna happen. The major players—the US, Europe, China, Russia, India—can’t even get their shit together. We need to quit focusing on this idea of a problem that we need to solve, and start getting used to the situation we live in: the Anthropocene.

Finally, the idea is important and useful because it has some novelty. I bet you’re sick of hearing about global warming. I am. Most people are. It’s a total downer, it’s complicated, and it’s been happening forever. Heard it. Got it. Whatever. Well, for the moment at least, “the Anthropocene” has some currency because a lot of people are still wondering what it means. That’s good.

I still haven’t answered your explicit question, though, which is how I would communicate the concept’s importance. Well, on the one hand, I might explain it like I just did here. On the other hand, I think communicating that the idea is important or useful is less valuable than simply communicating the idea itself. If other people find the idea useful, it will become important without anyone having to sell it. Culture works by promotion and advocacy, sure, but it also works organically: if a concept helps people make sense of the world, they’ll pick it up. “The Anthropocene” is useful, now, among a certain group of people. We’ll see if it catches on more broadly, and for how long it might remain useful. Given some of the worst-case estimates for global warming and sea level rise, it might last us through the end of this civilization. Who knows—maybe “the Anthropocene” will be the last good idea humanity ever had.


CH: That shift from talking about transient process (climate change) to more long-term period (Anthropocene) seems important. However, the Holocene—the period or epoch we are currently in according to the official contemporary geology story—includes in its definition the influence of humans, in order to distinguish it from previous Pleistocene interglacial periods. For this reason, many geologists have argued that the definition of the Anthropocene is unnecessary. How is the characterisation of anthropogenic activity as geological force different in the Anthropocene, from that of the Holocene?

RS: Periodization is a tool to help us make sense of the world. Geologists are invested in certain kinds of understanding, certain kinds of sense-making, which are profoundly valuable to the rest of us. They’re having an argument now about whether or not the Anthropocene makes sense in describing a period distinct from the Holocene, in geological terms, and arguing about when it might be thought to have started. This is one of the ways that science works: by constructing narratives to make sense of available evidence. I look forward very much to hearing their conclusions.

At the same time, for the reasons I said before, periodizing with the Anthropocene makes a lot of sense to me, right now, though I’m not a geologist. While the Holocene is marked by anthropogenic geological change, it was not driven by that. Further, agricultural and topographical changes, pre-industrial civilization, and even the late Pleistocene megafauna extinction are small-scale, short-term changes compared to what’s been happening since the late eighteenth century, and especially since the mid-twentieth century. The scale of anthropogenic physical change in the Earth’s systems in the last hundred years is so massive it’s hard to comprehend, and the carbon and methane we’ve extracted from the ground and dumped in the oceans and atmosphere are going to be affecting geological and climatological cycles for hundreds of thousands of years. If not longer.

One way to think about it is that the Holocene was understood as a warm and relatively stable interglacial period, following the Quaternary glaciation and preceding another expected glaciation, all within the long arc of the Earth’s slow cooling; with the Anthropocene, we’ve bumped the planet out of that cycle entirely. We have likely short-circuited the next glacial period. We may have put the planet on course for runaway greenhouse warming. It’s hard to know how extreme the final consequences will be, because we’re running a global experiment that’s never been done before: how much carbon can the atmosphere and oceans absorb in a couple hundred years?

Again, the Anthropocene isn’t about weather patterns. It’s about deep transformations made to the Earth’s geophysical systems. Climate change is an effect of our moving carbon (and methane) from the ground into the air and oceans.

The term “Holocene” was advanced in 1885. Earth science was a few decades old. Svante Arrhenius hadn’t even yet published his groundbreaking 1896 paper on carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect, in which he offered the first good theorization of global warming. The “Holocene” was posited for and describes a world in which we no longer live. We need something to recognize that change: if not “the Anthropocene,” then what?


CH: Geologists define periods/epochs with Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) markers; points in geological strata & identify something significant as having changed globally around a particular time. To some who are more interested in the Anthropocene as cultural heuristic, recognising its existence & applying knowledge gained therefrom is perhaps more important than pinning down a definitive date. But for the Anthropocene to join the ranks of the Pliocene, Pleistocene, & Holocene, geologists want a suitable so-called “Golden Spike” to mark it. Suggested kick-offs range from as recent as testing of atomic weapons in the 60s, through the 19th century industrial revolution, all the way back to the advent of agriculture circa 6000 BCE. What, for you, is at stake in establishing a formal inauguration of the Anthropocene?

RS: I think the key thing about the Anthropocene is the massive changes we’ve made in the Earth’s geophysical systems, specifically with carbon transfer. By that logic, I’d lean toward the late eighteenth century as the period to consider driving the “golden spike,” perhaps 1781, for James Watt’s invention of the continuous motion steam engine, or some such similar date. But I have to say, July 16th, 1945 seems to make a great deal of sense to me to, symbolically and temporally. Not only does that date mark the dawn of the Atomic Age and the consequent dispersal of radioactive elements across the surface of the planet (there’s, but it also highlights the “Great Acceleration” observed in various kinds of human activity—including carbon transfer and anthropogenic climate change—that began in the mid-twentieth century.


CH: In a 2015 article in Nature (attached in case you don’t know it and are interested), Lewis and Maslin review a number of possible Anthropocene ignitions, finding that, as tempting/logical as the Industrial Revolution seems as a marker, there is no suitable record “in the rock” from which to derive a truly global Golden Spike. They advance 2 options. A) 1964, when the radionuclides from nuclear weapons testing really start becoming visible in tree rings and glacier ice worldwide, and the Great Acceleration is in full swing. B) 1610, post-Columbian expansion, the beginning of globalization, and as a result the connecting of world ecosystems both land and sea via human trade to an extent that has no geological precedent (the precise date comes from a massive and demonstratively global shift in atmospheric CO2 levels). Their money lands on 1610, based on it’s own merit as a GSSP, but also as a way of capturing the economic expansion that produced both the necessity & means for the steam engine/industrial revolution in the first place. I wanted to ask what you thought about this possibility (they’re the only ones I’ve seen suggest it)–at the risk of being Eurocentric, is it not appropriate to kick things off at the same time when the first fully global images of the Earth were arising?

RS: As I said before, the ICS and the geologists are hashing out when the Anthropocene began, from a properly geological point of view, and I look forward​ to their final decision. As I’m sure you know, Jan Zalasiewicz, Paul Crutzen, Will Steffen, Naomi Oreskes, and others published a paper in Quaternary International this January arguing for July 16, 1945 as the golden spike, based on “the globally distributed primary artificial radionuclide signal,” which seems consonant with Lewis & Maslin’s argument for 1964. That all makes a great deal of sense to me. As to 1610, while Lewis & Maslin’s argument is novel and exciting, and the “Orbis spike” offers a signal that seems as clear as the radionuclide one in the late 20th century, that date is subject to the same objections they raise against every other possible GSSP: the European expansion into the Americas wasn’t a discrete event but a series of events over time, from 1492 up to the massive redistribution of humans from Africa to the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries through the slave trade, and going back to Leif Erikson’s expedition to Vinland in the 10th century and forward to mass early 20th-century immigrations from Europe to the US. As an “event,” European colonization doesn’t seem any more specific than industrialization (less so, really), and it has significantly less to do with the real issues driving the Anthropocene, which are anthropogenic climate change, carbon transfer, and human forcings of geophysical dynamics.


CH: In a similar kind of way, your book starts by looking back to the advent of organised agriculture (circa 9,000 BCE) as the font from which many/most of our contemporary societal structures have sprung (Lewis and Maslin consider it as a start date, but all the measurable effects are too localised for a Golden Spike). How do the promises of agriculture, such as, say, stockpiling for the future (as opposed to nomadism/hunter-gatherering), filter down & affect our behaviours now?

RS:​ In the US, we live in a fossil-fuel-driven consumer society, not an agricultural society. Our society isn’t powered by plants and animals, but by oil, coal, and natural gas. The kind of profligacy, leisure, and waste we take for granted would be anathema to people from a farming culture, and they would seem as old-fashioned and strange to us as the Amish.

I argue in my book that human values, and especially political values, arise out of the material conditions of human existence: how we produce the energy that powers our societies. There have been three major revolutions in material conditions in human history: First, the agricultural revolution, when we shifted from taking advantage of pre-existing energy flows (in the form of hunting and gathering, especially tracking migratory herds of ungulates) to cultivating energy stocks in place; Second, the industrial revolution, when we shifted from biological energy stocks to fossilized energy stocks, namely coal; and Third, the great acceleration in the twentieth century, when we shifted from solid stocks to liquid stocks—from coal to mixed oil and natural gas. Each revolution has radically transformed human life and values, in ways that have made the previous forms of life almost unimaginably alien: the consumer doesn’t recognize herself in the coal miner, who didn’t recognize himself in the farmer, who didn’t recognize herself in the hunter.

There’s this temptation to want to name an Eden, to find a point of primitive purity and wholeness, and then to find the point where we “fell,” where we made a moral error, but that kind of thinking leads directly into romantic and historical fantasy. We are a highly adaptive predator species, and scary successful. We didn’t make a “moral” error, but the same biological error that drives deer populations to expand and collapse: the error of life seeking more life. Coal and oil offered us sweet, concentrated solar energy, and we’ve been mainlining that shit for 200 years. Now it’s going to kill us.


CH: This is a road Timothy Morton also takes (particularly in Ecology Without Nature), in terms of agriculture practice constructing the familiar notion of “Nature” as something “over there,” and seperate from humans. If we accept the Anthropocene and understand that humans are now a geological force, on par with, say, plate tectonics, this setup runs into some trouble. Does the naive conception of discrete nature as an “other” damage our ability to negotiate existence in this world?

RS:​ The scary thing about the Anthropocene for a lot of humanists, and the thing that I think Morton and a lot of the so-called “new materialists” get backwards, is in how it gives the lie to the “Nature/Culture” or “Nature/Human” distinction. The problem isn’t that humans are now super-powerful and have absorbed nature, but that we are in fact nothing more than a natural process. Being a geological force doesn’t mean we’re like The Thing, a giant super-powered rock-man; it means we’re like rocks.

What I mean by that is this: We tend to think we have agency, freedom, will, consciousness, and so on, while nature is determined (even if the laws are hazy, chaotic, and confusing). That’s the basis of the “Nature/Human” divide, and its the same logic that Hume talks about when he’s discussing free will in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. We each have a rich interior experience of the full deliberative process leading to our decisions, while at the same time we think that other people do what they do because that’s always what they do. Other people are predictable and behaviorally consistent because, we tend to think, that’s their character or their identity, yet when we reflect on our own decisions, we tend to privilege choice and will.

If you take this imaginative construct of free will and project it onto human society, as happened in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, what you get is a world split in two: on the one side you have determined, scientific, predictable, controllable Nature; on the other you have the mastering, conscious, willful, free Human. Morton and Harman and the so-called “new materialists” claim to be collapsing the “Nature/Human” distinction, but what they’re actually doing, if you read their work carefully, is expanding the fantasy of agency. They still fetishize will (as you can see from their deeply Heideggerian roots) and are using it to anthropomorphize the world into a reflection of human consciousness. In my view, they’ve got their hands on the right tool, but they’ve grabbed the wrong end. The difficult fact that we need to come to terms with is that humans are just a part of nature. We’re not special, we’re not exceptional, we’re not free. We don’t know what the fuck we’re doing, and—it turns out—we’re not in charge of shit.

Or, to frame my point in terms of your question, we don’t actually negotiate existence in this world. We negotiate how we feel and think about existence. That’s the whole point of the book, really: coming to terms with things we can’t change, coming to terms with the fact that there are things we can’t change. Owning that fact. Learning how to die. Learning to die.


CH: It’s funny that you use that phrasing. I read the NYT piece with a class in Spring, and that old AA mantra “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” came up. There was a division in that group over whether the text was simply defeatist & pointing that out, or (without using words like redemptive or optimistic per se) pointing somewhere else that may even be partially uplifting. I think the book, particularly with the 5th chapter, makes the answer a lot more clear. But I’m wondering what the initial reaction to the NYT piece was like? It was pretty high profile in my little field of view, but I don’t know what the more general reach was like. Did you receive any particularly virulent responses, or accusations of “nihilism”? Obviously you were compelled to move forward & expand it into a book.

RS:​ “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene” was the most emailed ​piece on the NYTimes website the day after it appeared, and remained in the top five all that week. I was kind of blown away. I certainly never expected that kind of response. I thought, at best, some people would get it and some people would think I was a wingnut and most people wouldn’t care. I was deeply struck by how widely and deeply the essay resonated with folks, and by how strong their response was.

Your students were not unusual: one of the most consistent challenges with the piece, and now with the book, is addressing the charge that it’s defeatist. Because make no mistake, we have been defeated. We have defeated ourselves. That’s exactly what I’m arguing. For almost thirty years we’ve known about dangerous anthropogenic global warming, and for almost thirty years governments have been dithering, waffling, and making promises they never intended to keep, and for thirty years we’ve been dumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere. Today, there is no practical way we’re going to keep global warming below 2C, probably not even below 4C. Barring the intervention of weather wizards riding in from Arcturus on space unicorns, it is politically and practically impossible to stop the death-ride. Indeed, it’s likely we’ve already passed the tipping point where we could interrupt the feedbacks even if we wanted to.

Before writing the piece for the NYTimes, when I was reading up on the situation, I was frantic for possible ways out. I wanted to do something, find some fulcrum where I might leverage a difference. I was desperate. I’m going to be an old man when shit’s getting really bad–I don’t want to spend my last geriatric days dealing with the Hurricane-Katrina or Baghdad-level collapse of American society. But the conclusion I came to (looking at the evidence, as I talk about in the book) was that such a fulcrum doesn’t exist. If Obama and James Hansen and Naomi Klein and the UN and the US military and science and geoengineering can’t stop it, who can? The planet is going to keep warming. The Earth is going to keep changing. The way of life we are used to is going to end. This civilization is already dead.

I don’t think it’s defeatism to say that our choices need to be made in recognition of reality. But recognizing the reality of a situation is not the same giving up. You’re going to die someday. That doesn’t mean you quit taking showers, eating, seeing people, trying to make art, whatever. And it’s not defeatism to recognize that you’re mortal and finite. It’s wisdom. What we need to do is take that consciousness of mortality into our decision-making, into our world-making. We need to bring impermanence and perspective into our daily thoughts, into our work, into our systems of governance, because we need to adapt to life on Earth, which is a bounded physical system. It is not infinite. We need to understand that the dream of eternal techno-utopian progress, the heady hope that we can fix everything, the sweet fantasy that we can solve the very problem of being human, is a poisonous lie whispered by carbon-fueled capitalism.


CH: Along with the book’s point as learning (how) to die, the other side of that coin is that our most important tool is culture. It is, in multiple senses, what got us here, into this mess. Culture may have some of its origins in coping with death (burial rites, etc), but culture and “symbolic reasoning” is also the means by which humans were able to expand so explosively, all the way here, to the brink of collective death. Culture is also the way onward, though not to say that it can “save us” or avoid the catastrophe (we do need to learn to die, after all). How do you conceive of preserving our “common cultural inheritance”, as Ken Wark calls it in his blurb, helping us start another way to live in this new period which is our home?

RS: ​Culture isn’t what got us here. A certain kind of culture did: specifically, carbon-fueled capitalism. Our problem isn’t original sin. Our problem is believing we’re not dependent on the physical systems of the Earth, and, more to the point, dumping huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

The good news is, carbon-fueled capitalism is a very recent cultural innovation. It’s only about two hundred years old. Humans have been making culture for thousands of years before that, and there is a truly astonishing variety of ​ways that humans have made meaningful lives in an astonishing variety of environments. From the Iñupiat to the !Kung, from Kurdish Islam to Tibetan Buddhism, from federalism to communism, we have a tremendous store of cultural technologies to draw from in figuring out how to adapt. The most important thing, it seems to me, as I’m arguing in the book, is to relearn the basic fact of mortality, which we have forgotten. We need to relearn finitude. We need to relearn impermanence. And we need to re-establish a meaningful relationship with the dead.

Capitalism wants us to forget the dead, because it wants us to forget that we, too, must die. Capitalism needs infinite growth, it believes in a magical world where death shall have no dominion. So we hide our dead, especially here in the US. We hide everything that reminds us of death. We insist on redemptive stories and happy endings. We even hide our war dead, and we forget those who were killed in our name. We insist that war’s not about killing and blood, but about trauma and recovery. But the fact is, we are the dead. They have become us, as we are the dead of future generations.

I think this is part of the pleasure in zombie movies, is that they stage the return of the repressed: they dramatize the fact of human mortality that in our daily lives as consumers we work so hard to forget. And part of the drama they stage is our knowledge that we cannot beat them. Until we can make peace with death in waking life, until we make peace with the dead, the zombies are going to keep coming for us in our dreams.


CH: In one of my favourite pieces on art/cultural practice in the Anthropocene, Ken Wark closes with “We are coming into the time of the artists, but hardly the kind of artists hitherto seen on earth.” Contra Adorno, Wark thinks of art not as antithesis to technology, but a way of experimenting with the space of possibility in a given technology. Do you have any thoughts on the kinds of demands that the definitions or implications of the Anthropocene place on artistic practice, whether technically or conceptually?

RS: There’s a lot to say here that I don’t think I’m going to go into now, but it is worth pointing out that Adorno’s understanding of the opposition between art and technology was explicitly about the production of art in capitalist society. Art/Technology is a ramification of the Nature/Culture rift that capitalism needs in order to sustain the fiction of infinite growth: there must be a remainder, always, beyond production, so that it can be pillaged for new production. But look, art (long before it was “art”) has always been conceptualized as a link between the human and the non-human, between this and that. “Art” is a broad term for a variety of human symbolic technologies that create connections between things, synthesize knowledge, represent pre-conceptual intuitions, and dramatize contradictions. The very essence of poetry—metaphor—is about joining two different things together. The very essence of painting—the static image—is about synthesizing process into a moment. And so on.

The challenge of the Anthropocene for art, as I see it, is twofold. First, there’s the call to be useful to society: to warn, to help adapt, to teach, to dream a new way forward into the darkness, to offer palliative care as this civilization dies away. Second, there’s the need to connect with the dead. Artists as makers are often deeply invested in genealogies, but we need to go beyond genealogy. We need to understand that part of the job of the artist, I think, is caring for the dead, remembering the dead. In a kind of Benjaminian sense, we need to be brushing history against the grain. We need to keep going back to what was lost, to what was forgotten, to the many who have been abandoned. Less Jeff Koons, more M. NourbeSe Philip. Less Kenneth Goldsmith, more Vanessa Place. Less Ryan Trecartin, more Lorde. Because even as the ship goes down, the partiers on the top decks will still want to keep hearing how great the party is. But the point isn’t about my tastes or even any pronouncements I might make. Artists do what artists do. The point, it seems to me, is the same old one: “only connect.” The difference now being that we have lost our connection with the dead, without which we are lost in time: we urgently need to get it back.


CH: At first that sounds a lot like an Eliotic “looking back to go forward”—pilfering Dante to paint early 20th Century industrialisation. But going forward can’t mean quite the same thing as it did in the 1920s, the future being so thoroughly fraught, & now being aware of it (not like it wasn’t already a mess back then). I’m thinking of Joyelle McSweeney’s “FUTURE OF NO FUTURE” for poetry; a contemporary thrust outside the traditional “avant-garde” because there is “no interest in marching forward.” On the brink of being undone by our technological progress, does our cultural practice also need to divest from notions of linear/telic growth?

RS: That’s exactly right. Eliot’s a troublesome predecessor, and I’d want to qualify or hedge a lot of aspects in your analogy, resisting both Eliot’s earlier aestheticism and his later parochialism. But the spirit of The Waste Land, that syncretic, synthesizing imagination trying to find a way to come to terms with a broken world, moving from Wagner back through the Tarot and Ovid and at last to the Hindu “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.”—​there’s something worthwhile there. Perhaps especially opened up by Tan Lin’s ​insight (from “Anachronistic Modernism,” in Cabinet) that “Literature is nothing but the residue of an old technology in the process of reinventing itself as static.”

In any case, I’m against accelerationists of all stripes, Futurist, transhumanist, or apocalyptic, since only a fool thinks they can light the world on fire and know what’s on the other side.​ And I’m against the dubious notion of “progress,” since​ ​the​ only way perpetually moving forward makes sense is if there is some goal, which must necessarily be utopian, which means escapist, which means delusional, because the only way out of the human condition is death. Which is to say that “progress” doesn’t ​actually make ​any sense​ at all​: it’s a flight from the limitations of being a mortal earthling, which is a flight from the very conditions of possibility for being human.

Ultimately, we die either way: screaming and fighting and on fire, or attentive and compassionate and easing each other’s pain. We don’t get to decide whether or not we go, or when, or how: all we get to decide is how we handle it. Instead of always running away from death—instead of always running away from ourselves—a responsible human choice would be to turn and face it. We must learn how to die.


CH: In addition to your own work, can I prey on you for a brief entry-level reading list to The Anthropocene?

RS: Well, sure… Here are just a few: ​

​Jeff VanderMeer The Southern Reach trilogy

Ben Lerner 10:04

Patricia Smith Blood Dazzler

Elizabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction

Naomi Klein This Changes Everything

Dale Jamieson Reason in a Dark Time

Dale Jamieson and Bonnie Nadzam Love in the Anthropocene

David Archer The Long Thaw

Octavia Butler Parable of the Sower

​Lisa Robertson The Weather

Paolo Bacigalupi The Windup Girl

Rob Nixon Slow Violence

McKenzie Wark Molecular Red

Ken Saro-Wiwa Sozaboy

and Spinoza’s Ethics

There’s more I need to read but haven’t got around to yet, so I can’t vouch for them, but I’m looking forward to reading CA Conrad’s Ecodeviance, Jedediah Purdy’s After Nature, Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, and lots of others. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important stuff…


CH: Ecodeviance is great—I’m teaching it in my creative writing class this Fall. Finally, settle a dispute for me: ANTHropocene, or anTHROPocene?

RS: You say tomato, I say a thousand-year drought. It works either way, but I have come to lean consistently toward ANTHropocene. Slightly less awkward


Chris Holdaway is a poet / editor / linguist from New Zealand. He directs Compound Press, & is a candidate in the MFA programme at Notre Dame. He received his MA(Hons) in linguistics from the University of Auckland, where he also studied cosmology & astrophysics. Work (to) appear(s) in Prelude, Requited, & Small Po[r]tions.