Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols

by Tom Cohen, Claire Colebrook and J. Hillis Miller

Following on from Theory and the Disappearing Future, Cohen, Colebrook and Miller turn their attention to the eco-critical and environmental humanities’ newest and most fashionable of concepts, the Anthropocene. The question that has escaped focus, as “tipping points” are acknowledged as passed, is how language, mnemo-technologies, and the epistemology of tropes appear to guide the accelerating ecocide, and how that implies a mutation within reading itself—from the era of extinction events.

Only in this moment of seeming finality, the authors argue, does there arise an opportunity to be done with mourning and begin reading. Drawing freely on Paul de Man’s theory of reading, anthropomorphism and the sublime, Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols argues for a mode of critical activism liberated from all-too-human joys and anxieties regarding the future. It was quite a few decades ago (1983) that Jurgen Habermas declared that ‘master thinkers had fallen on hard times.’ His pronouncement of hard times was premature. For master thinkers it is the best of times. Not only is the world, supposedly, falling into a complete absence of care, thought and frugality, a few hyper-masters have emerged to tell us that these hard times should be the best of times. It is precisely because we face the end that we should embrace our power to geo-engineer, stage the revolution, return to profound thinking, reinvent the subject, and recognize ourselves fully as one global humanity. Enter anthropos.

“It didn’t take long for expert deconstructors Tom Cohen, Claire Colebrook and J. Hillis Miller to do their duty once again and begin to dream the Anthropocene. Up until now, many of us have simply been in data dump mode, the way global warming science delivers its pronouncements from behind a desk: Six! One hundred thousand! Ninety seven percent! Gigaton! Forty! The scientist herself needs to have cared enough to seek the global warming data that accidentally puts us in all kinds of shutdown. The kind of thinking aloud that these fantastic writers do is logically prior to being ready to receive data. Which makes you wonder: Maybe you should have read this years ago.”
Timothy Morton – author of Realist Magic
“If you think the ‘geologic turn’ means rocks are in and anything literary is out, take a good, hard look at Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols. In this fierce and unrepentant book, Cohen, Colebrook and Miller dare us to do something with the predicament of the planet other than dream of redeeming our species, reinforcing our disciplines, or recycling our political imperatives.  No one, just now, seems to be pushing the provocations of climate change and geophysical upheaval quite as far and fast as this.”
Nigel Clark – Chair of Social Sustainability, Lancaster Environment Centre
“The rare and valuable feature of this collection is each writer’s acknowledgement of the most austere challenge of de Man’s thought—that it may be impossible for criticism to avoid re-committing ideological aberrations similar to the ones it exposes in received opinion. Their care and rigor to avoid such relapses, as each inscribes a new path for interpretation in the light of climate change, makes this volume an unusually responsible contribution to contemporary theory.”
Christopher Morris – author of The Figure of the Road: Deconstructive Studies in Humanities Disciplines
“There’s something uncanny about the very word Anthropocene. Perhaps it is in the way it seems to arrive too early and too late. It describes something that is still happening as if it had happened. Perhaps it is that it seems to implicate something about the ‘human’ but from a vantage point where the human would be over and done with, or never really existed in the first place. And so besides the crush of data there’s a problem of language to attend to in thinking where and when and who we are or could ever be or have been. Cohen, Colebrook and Miller do us the courtesy of taking the Anthropocene to be a name that marks both the state of the world and the state of language. They bring their considerable collective resources to bear on this state of language, that we might better weave words that attend to the state of the world.”
McKenzie Wark – author of Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene
“With breathtaking fearlessness, Cohen, Colebrook and Miller have set fire to the last life-raft - the Anthropos - and in so doing expose the full extent of the Enlightenment shell game: not only have ‘we’ never been modern, we’ve never even been human. This is the bedtime story for the advancing night in which all tropes are black, and the tropological grid in permanent black-out.”
Sigi Jöttkandt – author of First Love: A Phenomenology of the One
“Imagine this book as the masterpiece of a new Pascalian wager: the irreversible wave of extinction events may turn out to be nothing, a false signal overtaken by a surprise holding capacity of the earth; but if not, if it is not, at least this book will have been one of the most important that appeared towards the end.”
Jonty Tiplady – 2009 Crashaw Prize winner and author of Zam, Bonk, Dip

Author Bios

Tom Cohen is Professor of English and co-director of the Institute on Critical Climate Change at the University at Albany. He is the author of Anti-Mimesis, Ideology and Inscription, and Hitchcock’s Cryptonymies v. 1 & 2. His most recent titles, co-authored with Claire Colebrook and J. Hillis Miller, are Theory and the Disappearing Future (Routledge 2011), and its companion volume, Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (OHP 2016).

Claire Colebrook is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Penn State University. She is the author of New Literary Histories (1997), Ethics and Representation (1999), Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed (1997), Gilles Deleuze (2002), Understanding Deleuze (2002), Irony in the Work of Philosophy (2002), Gender (2003), Irony (2004), Milton, Evil and Literary History (2008), Deleuze and the Meaning of Life (2010), and William Blake and Digital Aesthetics (2011). She co-authored Theory and the Disappearing Future with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller (2011), and co-edited Deleuze and Feminist Theory with Ian Buchanan (2000), Deleuze and History with Jeff Bell (2008), Deleuze and Gender with Jami Weinstein (2009) and Deleuze and Law with Rosi Braidotti and Patrick Hanafin. She has written articles on visual culture, poetry, literary theory, queer theory and contemporary culture.

J. Hillis Miller is UCI Distinguished Research Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the University of California at Irvine. He is the author of many books and articles on literature and literary theory. His recent titles include For Derrida (2009), The Conflagration of Community: Fiction Before and After Auschwitz (2011) and, with Tom Cohen and Claire Colebrook, Theory and the Disappearing Future (2011).