Between geopoetics and geopolitics
The proposal of the ‘Anthropocene’ as a new geological era where humans represent the dominant natural force has renewed artistic interest in the ‘geopoetic’. By engaging creatively with the human as a geologic force, the contemporary geopoetic attempts to communicate, if not construct a novel view of human-world relationships. With the circulation of this view, writers, artists and activists hope to incite changes in personal and collective participation in planetary life and, with it, politics. The attempt to link planetary processes and politics has many historical precedents, many of them associated with ‘inhuman’ outcomes such as fascism and religious sacrifices. However, there have also been productive poetic and political engagements with the geologic, for instance, as found in the mid-20th century work of Georges Bataille, Mikhail Bakhtin, Simone Weil and Suzanne & Aimé Césaire, who creatively engaged with material human existence and its embeddedness in unstable geographies and geophysical processes. Synthesizing the political and scientific shifts in human-world relationships of their time, these projects are set against oppressive or narcissistic materialisms and experiment with the image of the ‘cosmic’ to cultivate a preoccupation not (only) with a tangible materialism, but with an intangible one that emphasizes process and connectivity across wide spatial and temporal scales. The movement of the writers between poetics and politics will be used to enquire what kind of political work a contemporary geopoetic could potentially do.
From Overactive Citizenship to Parallel institutions?
Across history, parallel institutions tend to have a bad image. Demonised as an undermining of existing government (and even NGO) services, they are often violently suppressed. Indeed, in their duplications of government services and institutions, right-wing movements such as the National Socialists in Germany have shown the effectiveness of replacing failing governmental and non-governmental institutions. While such duplications do not have the public good at the heart of the endeavour, there is a multitude of parallel institutions that do. These underreported efforts – in areas such as health, food, education, banking – happen and have happened globally under various umbrellas. Often, they challenge existing institutions by outperforming them on smaller budget, by enabling greater citizen involvement and control and by looking to the Global South and other marginal spaces for more desirable models. Despite their potential to demonstrate to a wider public the possibility of effective action, governments, especially those that lead a ‘war on public services’, meet this form of ‘active citizenship’ with a variety of obstacles. The ferocity with which some of these civic experiments are and have been met prompts the questions: what possibilities and imaginaries can these initiatives represent? What outcomes would they enable at the end of a trajectory free of opposition? And what about through a continually encountered state violence? Through studying successful examples of ‘over-active citizenship’ across the world and recent history, this project seeks to examine the emergent processes that could enable a new disillusioned public to grow into being that increasingly takes active political action, rewriting passive forms of political participation such as voting.