kgupta Annotations

META: How is “the Anthropocene” – by this, or some other name – talked and worried about in this setting? What modes of communication carry and occlude engagement with anthropocenics? What discursive histories shape contemporary articulations?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - 2:27pm

It has become a common refrain to ask how the Anthropocene is experienced locally, but what about corporeally? A growing body of evidence (such as this report from the APA) demonstrates that climate change and its effects are linked to elevated rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and a host of emotions including anger, hopelessness, and despair. After Hurricane Katrina, it was estimated that 1 in 6 survivors experienced PTSD, and Harvard researchers found that suicidal ideation heavily spiked. While discussions of these forms of ecological grief (or "ecoanxiety" by psychologists) have largely focused on mental health, economic impacts, and big storms rather than less spectacular forms of ecological change (especially in New Orleans), I am particularly interested in finding how embodied apprehensions of human vulnerability are experienced within the city, and how these have affected approaches to mortality and practices around death and dying.

Aside from talking to more deathcare professionals in the area (something I hope to do once we arrive), I have found rather robust evidence that there is increased engagement with mortality in New Orleans. Death Cafes, which are community gatherings to discuss death and combat taboos that make it an inappropriate topic of conversation, have regularly met for the past two years. Furthermore, preliminary research on funeral homes in NOLA seems to indicate increased interest in green internment options, with multiple organizations framing green/natural burial as a gentle option that "returns the body to nature." While means of casket burial and cremation have historically worked to “correctly” order death and the dead through preservation or means of obliterating the body as quickly as possible (organizing principles that have that rendered death as an interruption rather than a natural process), these endeavors seem to accept to the pressing realities of individual and earthly mortality by framing death as an opportunity for renewal - a sort of "circle of life." 

Although it is less related to my own area of expertise, one of most surprising discoveries I made was that New Orleans was home to the original "Before I Die" wall. In 2013, artist Connie Chung created a participatory chalkboard in an abandoned house with a fill-in-the-blank question of “Before I die, I want to ______.” (The next day, the wall was completely filled with responses.) Iterations of this project are now in over 75 countries. While Chung does not specifically cite anthropogenics as a source of interest or inspiration, its original placement on a building that stood as a sort of monument to ecological devastation makes me strongly think that there are broader connections to be made here about somatic attunements to climate change. 

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