Seminar: Exhaustion and Imagination

August 21st, 2019

Focusing on the limits—and opportunities—exhaustion engenders, in this seminar the difficulties of being out of energy and out of ideas will be related to the challenges posed by the Anthropocene.

Ideas, people, and ecosystems all have their limits. In a seminar that confronts the difficulties of being out of energy and out of ideas, participants will negotiate the many limits the Anthropocene confronts us with and how this has a severe effect on how we understand and exist within it. The way that this exhaustion can also mark the cessation of practices and approaches that are no longer fit for purpose will also be explored.

A foundational issue in studying the effects of climate change is the possibility of exhaustion; of resources, of ways of life, of species, the oxygen starved “dead” hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Yet the exhaustion can also indicate the end point of some practices that have become less useful—or even ways of life that were not so compelling in the first place. It could also account for the effective exhaustion of communities or activist groups trying to battle global issues and sustain ways of living in an increasingly vulnerable state. By visiting multiple sites downriver from Tulane University, this seminar will explore the roles of exhaustion and imagination as pertaining to ongoing ecological, cultural, and historical figurations in the area. Exhaustion and imagination will be viewed as concurrent themes that inform each other by decoding the many layers of anthropogenic behaviors expressed upon and within the landscape.

One site that will be focused on during the seminar is a disappearing parcel of land in Plaquemines Parish, outside the federal levee protection system and south of the soon to be constructed Breton Sound sediment diversion. It is heritage of a legacy of generations connected to this river land, descendants of an ethnic European man and an enslaved woman. Those involved with the seminar will take on differing perspectives concerning this parcel of land and how its geomorphological transformations play into the themes of the seminar while also discussing philosophies of ownership and its relation to place. Other sites of exploration will include geological remnants of deltaic lobe building and sites that reveal current practices surrounding river constriction and diversion measures in the parishes of Orleans and Saint Bernard.

Seminar participants will be in-situ to observe, sense, listen, and interact with a complex accumulation of anthropogenic layers at multiple scales throughout time. These sites will serve as test cases to understand local permutations of macro issues pertaining to planetary changes, commodity chains, infrastructural and ecological metabolism, and the duration and temporality of these systems, with a particular focus on the exhaustion of land, water, and the body.