ANTHROPOCENE AND THE MEMORY OF THE EARTH. Bronislaw Szerszynski

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqr6bH_U0-o
http://www.academia.edu/10990130/The_Anthropocene_and_the_memory_of_the_Earth
Sixthly, memory also includes forgetting. Forgetting is not just privative, the lack of memory. Justlike death presupposes life, forgetting presupposes memory: only things which can remember canforget in any interesting sense. Forgetting is an active process,a capacity, a skill. And specific kindsof memory can
require forgetting, selection, erasure. When later I talk about the atmosphere having memory, about the air ‘affecting’ itself over time, when for example a hurricane forms, the capacity of the hurricane to have ‘working memory’ depends on parcels of air forgetting their origins before they were taken up into the hurricane. If the carbon recycled into our bodies remembered too much about its origins in the animals and vegetables we eat, or in the organisms whose matter they absorbed, this would affect our capacity to remember ourselves and what we know.
But at other times atmosphere does not seem to have any memory, and forecasting is impossible.Why does the air forget? This is partly due to the topography of the Earth below it: the very active system of tectonics which as we will see helps the rocks remember also produces features on the Earth’s which make the atmosphere forget . Other planets, such as the gas giants in the outer solar system, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, have atmospheres with a much longer memory, with vortices that can last for hundreds of years or longer – Jupiter’s red spot, for example, or the hexagonal cloud over Saturn’s north pole. But on Earth the mountain ranges wipe the memory of the air as it moves over them, rather like the erase head on an old-fashioned tape recorder.But the forgetfulness of the air on the Earth is also partly due to the clouds. The one part of the atmosphere with a longer memory is the stratosphere, because here there are no clouds to make the atmosphere forget. So for example there is a water vapour memory in the stratosphere, whereby seasonal high levels of water vapour at 15km altitude in the tropics slowly rise, five years later reaching 40km altitude. In the troposphere by contrast, clouds wipe memory.But of course the atmosphere is not completely chaotic. The air could be said to rely on its ownmne motechnics, its own hypomnesia. Its largest features, the overturning Hadley, Ferrell and Polarcells that determine the direction of trade winds and westerlies, are themselves huge dissipative systems that therefore have their own internal self-organisation and memory. But their internal memory is very short; if the sun went out, for example, the cells would lose their form over a fewdays. However, the atmosphere is reminded every minute ‘who’ it is and how it behaves by the Earth’s placement 93 million miles from the Sun, its shape, tilt and spin(Paltridge 1979).
 

Each system of memory has its own forms of forgetting which are crucial to their operation; and memory systems interact in complex ways – sometimes in ways that the memory of one system depends on increasing the amnesia of another system; sometimes in forms of hypomnesis, in which the memory of one system is increased by placing memory outside of itself, in another system.

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How does the set of developments we call the Anthropocene relate to this complex system ofsystems through which the Earth remembers and forgets? Will the Anthropocene simply insert itselfinto the memory of the Earth as a new stage of its development, or will it change the way the Earthremembers? Let me close with some tentative remarks.Firstly, the Anthropocene is potentially a
scrambling of the memory systems of the Earth
, not justfor observers but for the Earth itself, so that it forgets what it knows. Imagine the Anthropocene asa transient, a huge wave that washes across a catchment area. We need to distinguish at least threelevels of forgetting that such a transient can cause, each more significant than the last:
 
Firstly, a transient can degrade memory in self-organising systems(Rodríguez-Iturbe andRinaldo 1997: 373). So, for example, as the Anthropocene washes across the planet it causesa loss of rock memory by the mixing up of strata, but also a loss of cultural memory andecological memory, as the semiotic systems through which humans and non-humansremember how to interact with each other are degraded(Harries-Jones 2009).
 
Secondly, a transient can activate new singularities, tipping systems into new basins ofattraction which completely wipe the memory of the previous metastable state and pushthe system to build new memories – for example when invasive species bring new memoriesinto ecological systems, or if the thermohaline circulation of the oceans altered its pattern.
 
Thirdly, a transient can also actually push a system
away from criticality 
, thus destroying aparticular mode of self-organisation and thus a whole mode of memory – for example if ifthere were no humans to read an archive, or if life itself died out.Secondly, the Anthropocene also of course involves the
laying down of new forms of memory
; thisis the focus of the Jan Zalasiewicz’s Anthropocene Working Group, which has to see even forgettingas the laying down of a trace, in terms of lithostratigraphic, chemostratigraphic and biostratigraphicsignals in future rocks(Zalasiewicz et al. 2011a; Zalasiewicz et al. 2011b; Zalasiewicz et al. 2008).When Rio joins the geological archive will it be submerged, sedimented, and preserved; or will it bepounded to destruction? The great storm that occurred here in 2010 suggests it will be a bit of both.And in the shorter term the Anthropocene spreads unevenly across the Earth (agriculture, industry,markets), the explosive reorganisation of fossil fuels and minerals, and power and social life, leavesits traces on any Anthropocene future and in itself is a combination of memory and forgetting – ofuneven power relations and uneven development, of low and high entropy, that will imprintthemselves into the possible course of society, whether human or posthuman.But thirdly we should also consider whether what we are struggling to name at the moment is in fact
the Earth adding a new memory system
. How would we name this? Technosphere? Capitalosphere?Metrosphere? Cybersphere? Chthulhusphere? Probably some combination. And we have seen howin symmetry breaking, in the evolution of new forms of memory, typically the new forms depend onthe old continuing but also depend on degrading the energy and information being used andgenerated by the old. But we have
also
 seen that memory systems can in a sense help each other –water and rock, rock and water. And Nick Land’s notion of ‘geotrauma’, and Elizabeth Grosz’s‘geopower’(2008), suggest that new memory systems carry things over from the old, that memoriescan lie repressed or become reactivated. In the Anthropocene, is the Earth forgetting its old way ofremembering, in order to develop new forms of memory? Are the new, Anthropocenic memorysystems of the Earth wiping the memory from the old, like the mountains wipe the memory from theair? Or are they bringing to light, opening the archive of the Earth from its incarceration? Are thearchives of extinct species and lost ecosystems a form of mnemotechnics as the biosphere loses itsinternal capacity to remember what is being lost?
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But we must remember what Derrida said about archives in ‘Archive fever’. In contrast to live orspontaneous memory (mneme or anamnesis), the archive tries to protect memory from destructionby incarcerating it in a memory prosthetic(Derrida 1995: 22). Spontaneous, living memory,
mneme
,is vulnerable – we have seen that with the air, how quickly it can forget, as it tries to pass on its oralhistory from molecule to molecule. But of course the hypomnesia of the archive contains withinitself a vulnerability. The archive repeats, and repetition is an aspect of the death drive, of the verydestruction which the archive is trying to resist. The archive works against itself – this is the
mald’archive
,(Derrida 1995: 14). Whether it is the very strata of the rock, or an archive created byhumans in order to record Earth’s memories and what it knows, the archive’s very form of resistanceto forgetting makes a more final forgetting possible – the hiding or destruction of the archive. Theclosed archive of the solid body of the Earth is now being opened but at the same time ransacked.So to simplify this vast terrain of more-than-biotic memory I have opened out, I will end with achoice – not rock, paper or scissors, but rock, water, air or life? Which kind of memory is strongest?Which will last the longest? Will the different forms of memory undermine or reinforce each other?When we remember the Earth, and remember for the Earth, do we remember as a storm, a vortex,as howl, as living memory? Or as a mountain, as a great archive? Which kind of memory will enablethe Earth to act in the way in which it needs to act at this time?
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