Nonfiction book “The Climate of History in the Age of Planets” – Culture

On January 17, 2016, Rohith Vimula, a PhD student at Hyderabad University, committed suicide with his life. In his farewell letter he wrote about his fate as a Dalit (“untouchable”) in Indian society. He was always seen as a member of the lower caste, not as a spirit being composed ultimately of “star dust”. This is nearly seven decades after the legal abolition of the caste system. Indian historian Dipesh Chakrabarti uses this suicide note as a magnifying glass to take a closer look at the big questions of our time. Using the example of his mother, who – though imbued with the ideals of modern democratic India – meticulously avoided any contact with Dalits, he shows how the unconscious shapes our social interaction more than consciousness. The ostracization of the Dalit body is not only a form of social oppression, it is above all a deep-rooted collective oppression of death and its associated creatures of the human body. It symbolizes what many cultures exclude: our inextricable interdependence with the growth and decay of all life.

Acknowledging and recognizing this interconnectedness has become a matter of human survival, Chakrabarti writes in his new book, Climate of History in the Planetary Age. PhD student Rohith Vimula repeats exactly the oppression he is trying to free himself from when he demands recognition as a spiritual being and “stardust”. In an age of persistent biosphere crisis, we will need to reverse the focus: the outcasts must not embrace the disembodied archetypes of the upper classes and Western cultures. Rather, the latter must understand that we as humans have always depended on non-human life, with which we have a long history of co-evolution.

Our enthusiasm for the artificial worlds we create has left us ignorant

Chakrabarti sees us at a historical geological tipping point. The collective impact of demographic and technological developments in human history and their massive intensification through fossil industrialization made Homo sapiens a geological player. Part of the supposed success story was to see yourself as a spiritual being made of “stardust” and to make nature more manageable through high abstraction achievements.

But our “alienation from Earth,” as Hannah Arendt called it, our enthusiasm for the artificial worlds we created, made us ignorant. ignorant of our body and our soil – in other words: our peripheral identity. The more we “work” on Earth in pursuit of worldly prosperity for large numbers of people, the more frequently we will encounter the planet.

Dipesh Chakrabarti wants to explain the relationship “between man and other life forms and their close relationship to the processes of the Earth system”.

(Photo: Alan Thomas/Surkamp)

For Chakrabarti, the term “planet” is the opposite of “the globe”, that is, the interconnected technical sphere created by the globalization of capitalism. The planet is what emerges when we alter the chemical cycles and Earth’s systems in ways that make our living conditions precarious. The planet is our repressed oceanic identity – what we hide in the frenetic shadow of globalization. Environmental disasters in the world show just how much the planet is our life condition. This looks almost like Heidegger.

In general, it is fascinating to see the intellectual flexibility with which the postcolonial theorist Chakrabarti, who set out to “regionalize” Europe, questions the German tradition of thought in order to reflect on our history in the Anthropocene. He sees the result as a preparatory work for a “philosophical anthropology” of our “planetary age,” marked by a “new climate of history”: we can no longer hide behind the facades of human history, but must finally become clear that we are part of the history of life and the history of humankind. ground. The general climate of our sense of history has radically changed.

There are only a few people who are able to think subtly about the global historical and postcolonial dimensions of fossil madness

On the other hand, this offends the narcissistic idea that human history takes place outside of natural history. On the other hand, it forces us to admit that we are deeply involved in the history of life, not least through species extinction and climate change. According to Chakrabarti, both points are also not apparent in Marxist criticism. This remains attached to the human center and refuses to view the biosphere for what it is: the inevitable state of our life, which always remains alien and unavailable to us. Nevertheless, Marxist criticism is still necessary to understand the role that capitalism plays in accelerating the industrialization of fossil fuels.

As a critical moral category, Chakrabarti mentioned “flourishing” (flourish) a. Our political reasoning in the Anthropocene is no longer based on the greatest happiness of the greatest number, as in classical utilitarianism, or on the mature individual, as in enlightened humanity. Politics today means understanding “the relationship between man and other life forms and their close relationship to the processes of the Earth system.” This results in “habitability” as a new objective of political action (habitabilityThe biosphere of human life.

Dipesh Chakrabarti:

Dipesh Chakrabarti: “Climate of History in the Age of Planets.” Translated from the English by Kristen Breeze. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2022. 443 pages, €32.

Paradoxically, however, this livability is linked to our ability to make non-human life an object of concern. This perspective is also a critique of the sustainability mantra, which has always aimed to perpetuate existing structures. Instead, we must painfully realize the extent to which ideals of freedom are intertwined with these structures – with the accelerated combustion of fossil fuels and the consequences of their invalid descendants.

Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine has many causes. One is that he wants to extend the life of the fossils at any cost. Germany has played the game of blindness and greed for a very long time. Few historians are able to think as skillfully as Chakrabarti on the global historical and postcolonial dimensions of this fossil craze. His new book is the result of 15 years of extensive reflection on the situation in which humans are placed in the Anthropocene. It offers profound insights, but the deeper is also the simpler: we are all Dalit bodies, not Brahmins. If we cannot understand this and align our culture with other creatures, then this culture is doomed to fail.

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