The Extinctuary: Reckoning with Apocalypse and Anthropocene

Alexander Rehding, Harvard University
Evander Price
, Indiana University

“In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches”—Paul Ehrlich How do we account for what is no longer there? This exploratory seminar proposes an interdisciplinary reckoning with the apocalypse of extinction. “Extinction” here is meant in the most capacious sense: species extinction, mass extinction, human extinction, language extinction, and the like. What sorts of interventions have been successful in the fight to stave off extinction? If art serves, in the words of Marcel Duchamp, to “make the invisible, visible,” then might art be simultaneously the most potent and harmless weapon in the collective effort to stave off this self-induced apocalypse we have inflicted upon the planet. To what degree can people be compelled to care about something that is no longer there? Is the direct experience of extinction the only argument convincing enough to dissuade us from our toxic present-bias? How can we teach each new generation to care about what is, for us, a post apocalypse, and is, for them, the new normal? How do we reconcile the paradox of being both the source and the destination of the asteroid of the Anthropocene? These seem impossible questions to answer, but that hasn’t stopped many from trying. We propose inviting a selection of those thinkers, scholars, artists, and scientists to discuss the ways they have grappled with these questions.