This study day will consider changes in understanding of space and time that challenge traditional ways of situating ourselves as humans at the centre of our own world. In the Western world, our centrality was first called into question by the scientific exploration of the cosmos. The vast universe uncovered by Copernicus and Galileo came to supersede the reassuring geocentric model imagined by ancient and medieval thinkers who firmly placed the earth and man at the centre of the universe. Biological examinations of our own world, and especially the understanding of the mechanisms of evolution, also contributed to this process of decentering. Charles Darwin concluded The Descent of Man by reminding us that man is a human animal carrying the ‘indelible stamp of his lowly origin’.
Today, evolutionary biology positions us as creatures at the end of a flimsy twig on a four-billion-year-old tree of life. The current climate crisis is a sobering reminder of the precariousness of our position on that branch, with global warming constantly reducing the space available for (human) life on Earth and scenarios of ecological collapse pointing to possible human extinction in the near future. And though the emergence of the category of the ‘anthropocene’ sounds like a new, negative reminder of humans’ central place in their world, it does not actually counteract the impact of discoveries in the fields of geology and paleontology, which first showed human existence to be a mere sliver in the timeline of planet Earth. On geological timescales, the Anthropocene is an event, not an epoch.
Beyond questioning our central place in space and time, contemporary physics has challenged these categories themselves by suggesting their particular relevance to human experience. The theory of relativity and quantum theory have shown our notions of time and space to be deeply anthropocentric. As theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli explains, time as we generally understand it is a point of view that we humans share as a result of our biology and evolution, our place on Earth, and the planet’s place in the universe – time is a story we are always telling ourselves. In the ‘elementary grammar of the world, there is neither space nor time—only processes that transform physical quantities from one to another, from which it is possible to calculate possibilities and relations.’
In short, science has not ceased to expand our understanding of time and space in ways that are not easily reconciled with our own embodied experience. These discoveries have had a profound impact on the way we conceive of humans in time and space. They have changed our philosophical and critical landscape, and demanded that we rethink the category of the human.
As Clifford Geertz points out, ‘man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun’. This interdisciplinary conference seeks to critically examine how new discoveries in our understanding of time and space have kept reconfiguring this web of significance – and the place of humans within it. Our inability to apprehend both the infinite and the infinitesimal keeps calling for creative strategies to reposition ourselves in a world we cannot immediately comprehend.
This study day will particularly welcome papers looking at representations of the human in response to our changing understanding of time and/or space, or examining the rethinking of the category of the human together with the rethinking of time and/or space. We welcome papers from a variety of disciplines, such as literature, arts, history, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, philosophy as well as the use of diverse theoretical tools.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
– Representations of time and/or space in literature and art
– Narrative strategies that deal with news ideas of time and/or space
– Representations of decentering, past and present (heliocentrism, cosmos, the universe)
– The notion of deep time and its representation
– The representation of differing forms of time (cyclical, spiral, dreamtime, memory or linear time)
– Time and space in science fiction
– Changing representations of time and space in the age of the Anthropocene
– Long-term thinking
– Long nows, short tomorrows
– Reworkings of the place of the human in time and space
– The absence of humans
– The construction of pre-worlds, this world, other worlds
– Non-human, posthuman, transhuman
– Artworks that play with scale to question our centrality as humans
This conference day will be convened by Dr. Estelle Murail and Dr. Delphine Louis-Dimitrov with the support of the Faculty of Humanities of the ICP (EA 7403 – UR “Religion, Culture et Société”). It will be held on the 12th of June 2020 at the Catholic University of Paris (74 rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris).
Proposals of 300 words and a short biography should be sent to Dr. Diane Leblond (firstname.lastname@example.org), Dr. Sarah Gould (email@example.com), Dr. Estelle Murail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Delphine Louis-Dimitrov (email@example.com) by March 30th, 2020.
This study day is part of the project ‘Deconstructing anthropocentrism: Humanities After Humans?’, which is a project in collaboration between Dr. Sarah Gould (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, EA 4100 – HiCSA – histoire culturelle et sociale de l’art), Dr. Diane Leblond (Université de Lorraine, EA 2338 – IDEA) and Dr. Estelle Murail (ICP, EA 7403 – UR “Religion, Culture et Société”).
You will find more information about the project on our website: https://humanitiesafterhumans.wordpress.com/