Samstag, 02. November 2019, 10:00 - 21:00 iCal

Decentering the Anthropocene

Approaches to the Anthropocene in Chinese and Japanese literature and film

Seminarraum 1, Japanologie (Campus, Hof 2, Eingang 2.4., Parterre)
Spitalgasse 2, 1090 Wien


Weitere Termine

Freitag, 01. November 2019, 10:00 - 18:30

This workshop will decenter the hitherto mainstream understanding of the Anthropocene in two ways: On the one hand, we aim to challenge the idea that a global problem such as climate change and all of its implications need homogeneous global solutions. We pose the question of whether or not different regions of the world generate different perceptions of and ways of coping with the Anthropocene. We hypothesize that local solutions can only be generalized if Anthropocene research avoids Euro-centrism as the basis of its epistemology and institutionalization. For this reason, we invite specialists working on East Asia as well as specialists from East Asia to join us in looking at literature and film from East Asia since the beginning of the 20th century and their direct or indirect contributions to understanding the Anthropocene.

On the other hand, decentering research on the Anthropocene also means challenging the central position which some disciplines seem to claim for themselves in tackling with the Anthropocene. Rather than copying the long held hierarchy of disciplines and reproducing a form of interdisciplinarity in which the natural sciences define the rules of the game and the humanities serve as communicators to the public, Anthropocene research should establish a new relationship between disciplines, which is based on mutual respect and recognition. We should broaden each other’s perspectives by listening to each other and learning from each other’s findings. This way of overcoming our long held prejudices will lead to a decentering of Anthropocene research and prepare the ground for real rather than virtual inter-disciplinary collaboration.

In his preface to the collection of short stories known as „Call to Arms“, Lu Xun , the most prominent writer of early 20th century China, drew an implicit analogy between the decline of his family and the decline which the nation had encountered during the last years of the dynastic order. He explained that someone who had gone through this kind of experience would never be the same. Most of his writings are about dreams – good and bad -, and the messages he conveys to his readers waver between the hope that mankind might change the course of events and the painful knowledge of men’s inability to induce change. The catastrophe he lived through was gradual decline – a catastrophe without event (Katastrophe ohne Ereignis, Eva Horn) - the solution his country decided to opt for was revolution.

At the beginning of the 21st century, we are going through times surprisingly similar to China during the later 19th and early 20th centuries. But the world has turned upside down: The center of optimism located in industrializing Europe seems to have shifted to industrializing China, and the pessimism of decline has simultaneously shifted from China to Europe. What does this imply for the way people anticipate their respective futures? To which degree does the experience of dynastic decline, years of war and revolution shape the perception of what is optimistically called “peaceful rise” inside China? What does a future look like which contains both the promise of a sweet life with China at the center of the world and the fear that this will never come true?

Japan has been attracting our attention due to a series of natural and man-made catastrophes and its ways of coping with the disasters which often seem incomprehensible to non-Japanese observers. Are these coping mechanisms part and parcel of Japanese particularism, or can and should they be integrated into a decentered global view on the Anthropocene? Is Japan literally sinking, as the author of the novel “Japan sinks”, Sakyo Komatsu, and film director Shinji Higuchi who turned the novel into a movie, suggest, or will Japan survive while the rest of the world as we know it is turned into wasteland?

Japanese Anime attracts the attention especially of a young audience all around the world. Many of the Anime depict an inhospitable world which generates not only multiple forms of coping, but also human beings which very often do not seem to resemble what we would usually conceive of them to be like. Japan’s particular experience and way of coping with the Anthropocene seem to have an international audience which so far has not been recognized as being engaged with the Anthropocene.

Literature is the medium that tells us most about the state of mind and the emotional setting which are generated in times of uncertainties, hesitance, anxieties, and anticipated decline. Literature transports the sentiments and a structure of feelings (Befindlichkeit, Andrea Riemenschnitter) of époques past and present, and, much in contrast to science which reduces complexity, confronts and lives on complexity. At the same time, it introduces the thoughts of its creators to us, it allows the readers to re-invent themselves and their imagination of the future. Film can be said to rely on the achievements of literature but has developed its own language in the age of the “technical reproducibility” of art. Currently, film reaches a wider audience than any piece of literature and has thus to be regarded as central to Anthropocene research. Research on and in the Anthropocene needs literature and film as a source and instrument of (moral) education, imagination, mitigation and anticipation. Research on literature and film has to show and can convince other disciplines engaged in Anthropocene research that the humanities have more of a say than merely acting as facilitators in conveying the messages generated by the natural sciences to a broader public. The epistemology of the humanities both in terms of methodology as well as the repository of texts research in the humanities rely on open avenues of reflection, imagination and anticipation which everybody engaged in researching the Anthropocene needs.


Zur Webseite der Veranstaltung


Institut für Ostasienwissenschaften/Vienna Anthropocene Network

Um Anmeldung wird gebeten


Anastassiya Schacht
Vienna Anthropocene Network
Institut für Germanistik/Institut für Ostasienwissenschaften