Writing the New World

Mauro Caraccioli (Virginia Tech)

Why is that Spain figures so little in political theory despite the fact that the Spanish empire was the center of early modern imperial power? As a correction to this, Caraccioli seeks to situate the role of 16th-century Spanish chroniclers, explorers, and missionaries as key players in laying a distinct set of foundations for political thought as it developed in the New World. Thus he makes the case for seeing natural history as a distinct genre of early modern political thinking. This constitutes a key feature of his research agenda, which he calls the geopolitics of natural history. Within the genre of natural history, different conceptions of nature were developed which shaped imperial Spain’s efforts to cultivate a so-called New World civilization. Among these was the key notion of spiritual wonder which played an important role in making sense of exotic landscapes and peoples. In the final instance, Caraccioli’s project insists on taking seriously the intellectual contributions of early modern Spanish and Spanish-American thinkers in their efforts to make sense of nature and the people of the Americas at the dawn of modernity. About Mauro José Caraccioli: Mauro José Caraccioli is an assistant professor of political science and core faculty in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) at Virginia Tech. His interests span the history of political thought, the politics of nature and natural history, Global Latin America, and theories of scholarly reflexivity in a time of late-capitalism. In his most recent publication, Writing the New World, which integrates the fields of political theory, environmental history, Latin American literature, and religious studies, Maura Caraccioli showcases Spain’s role in the intellectual formation of modernity and Latin America’s place as the crucible for the Scientific Revolution.

Time and Power

Sir Christopher Clark (University of Cambridge)

Do different political leaders view the flow of history differently? This is the question that historian and best-selling author Christopher Clark answers in this talk based on his book “Time and Power”. Starting with contemporary examples such as Macron’s idea of Europe’s shared future horizon threatened by a regressive slide into the protectionist nationalism of Europe’s past and Trump’s ambition to return America to a state of past glory, Clark shows that different political regimes in fact have their own distinct temporal signatures.

Taking four examples from German history, Clark demonstrates how each political regime moved to a different temporal music. Not only are there, as Francois Hartog has argued, different regimes of historicity, but there is also the historicity of regimes. In the first example we hear about Frederick William (1620-1688) of Brandenburg who rather than being preoccupied with the past, leaned into the future, positing a number of possible futures, and thereupon choosing among them. Second, there is the historicity of the Frederick II (1740-1786) who lingered in a kind of philosophical stasis, enamored as he was with the classical authors of ancient Rome, and not with the contemporary thought of his day. Thirdly, there is Bismarck’s (1815-1898) time-awareness, whose challenge it was to reconcile the rapid paceof modernity with the static structures of the monarchical state, and who also saw history as unfolding in fleeting and unforeseeable moments which had to be seized. Lastly, there was the chronopolitics of Nazism, which did not see itself as in history, but in a non-linear time of racial identity. Ultimately, concludes Clark, understanding such fluctuations in temporal awareness may not abate the problem of recursive politics, but it might help us to understand it better.

When is the Anthropocene?

HELGE JORDHEIM (University of Oslo)

Periodizations matter. They are statements about what is important and what is trivial. They have effects far beyond their origins in scientific discourse. The Anthropocene is the most effective neologism in our time. Therefore we need to know what it means and the kind of work of it does in both science, technology and politics.

This talk is an attempt to respond to this need. One of the things we find as we look closer at the term is that it actually attempts to cover a incredible range of different kinds of processes: from the deep time of geology, the whole of human history, the lifetimes of species, to the extinction rates of plants and animals. All of these different kinds of life and time-scales are bundled up and made to fit together in a coherent temporal framework. Therefore we can say that the “Anthropocene” synchronizes these different kinds of time.

The Anthropocene is also a statement about our current situation. By highlighting the problematic relationship between humans and nature, it foregrounds the present moment as a kind of emergency. But instead of seeing our present moment as a time of crisis, we must emphasize that it is a moment of what the Greeks called kairos; a brief, decisive moment which announces itself as the right moment to act, and which unless acted upon, does not come again.