Exit to the Planetarium

The University of Sydney
Thursday, March 26th, 2015
6 pm – 7.30 pm
Quadrangle Building, Philosophy Room S249

In a famous passage, Walter Benjamin writes of First World War: “Human multitudes, gases, electrical forces were hurled into the open country, high-frequency currents coursed through the landscape, new constellations rose in the sky, aerial space and ocean depths thundered with propellers, and everywhere sacrificial shafts were dug in Mother Earth. This immense wooing of the cosmos was enacted for the first time on a planetary scale – that is, in the spirit of technology.” It was, he said, “an immense wooing of the cosmos,” and “on a planetary scale.” He was not alone in thinking that the war consummated a new relation between nature and techne with the blessings of capital. So it is been in the century since that war started.

In this presentation, I want firstly to tell a more literal-minded story about nature and techne and war, by looking at how climate science is in part the result of more than a century of military and strategic interest in the vagaries of weather and the constants of climate. We learn that we are at war with the planet itself from the techniques of fighting each other.

Secondly, I want to ask what kinds of critical-intellectual resources might help us think the relation of nature and techne a century after the first world war, in this era we might now call the Anthropocene. Here I draw on another witness to the Great War besides Benjamin, Alexander Bogdanov, and a witness to the military industrial complex of our own time, Donna Haraway. I think they give interestingly different, but convergent, answers to the question of how a relation between nature and techne can be known and organized in the interests of the perseverance of our species-being.

McKenzie Wark is the author, most recently, of Molecular Red (Verso 2015). Among his other books are The Beach Beneath the Street (Verso 2011), Gamer Theory (Harvard 2007), and A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard 2004). His two books on Australian culture and media are Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace (Pluto 1998) and The Virtual Republic (Allen & Unwin 1997). He is Professor of Media and Culture at The New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Studies in New York City.