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Call for Participation: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives on New Earth Lexicons

SEI researchers Dr James Dunk and Professor Anik Waldow invite expressions of interest from scholars of all backgrounds to contribute to the collaborative project at a loss for words of loss, which aims to map the power and limits of language in a time of environmental crisis.

Atacama Desert, Chile. Image by Jared Verdi on Unsplash.

Despite the fierce eloquence of scholars in the environmental humanities, deep ecology and other walks, there are still profound barriers separating most of us from other species, and from the planet. In this project we aim to gather a disparate community of scholars to hear and understand the way language is being used to articulate this historical moment and its new relations of life and death – for many are searching for words to describe a world which seems to have outgrown the words we once used for it.

New words are proposed to mark a geological departure – anthropocene, yes, but also technocene, cthulucene, manthropocene. Eremocene, the age of loneliness. And in a plethora of new dictionaries, lexicons, and glossaries, other words are assembled to give form and texture to these imagined epochs, words of clarified dread and despair but also words of hope, drafted from different languages and histories to find and steady ourselves in the spiral sweep of post-industrial, post-local, post-human time – words which seem to thrust down through space and time to find the places we fear are lost or fear to lose. Some of these words are ancient, like those Robert Macfarlane finds in the old languages of the British Isles, carrying intimacies born of long practice and habit. He offers them to be chanted as summons, wards: Lost Words for other lives, Lost Spells. Elsewhere new words are created as old semantics are reshaped by new science: solastalgia, biophobia, omnicide, symbiocene. 

These language projects represent a search for old attachments to place and life in the depths or at the margins of our languages, to recover sensibilities and relations that have been lost, as well as the creation or recombination of new words to build new worlds, to summon or conjure new relations and, in time, new places. New lexicons and glossaries describe a yearning for intimacy – or a yearning for the yearning – with the planet, soil, microbes, mammals, coalmines, mushrooms, fires and atolls. 

In this collaborative project we aim to map the power and limits of language to collapse time and space and to guide us into futures which words themselves bring forth. We therefore propose to slow and listen – a sustained, considered, collaborative effort to better understand the work these words of loss and dread and hope are doing, and how they lead us towards and away from the earth, and each other. We therefore call for scholars from all backgrounds who are eager to talk and walk and write together across the year, meeting monthly through 2022, building to a residential, relational (and funded) wordshop in late September. Readings may include: 

An Ecotopian Lexicon, edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy: thirty loanwords and artworks opening a kaleidoscopic window into the ecological multiverse: not what is, but what could or even should be. 

Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen, edited by Cymene Howe and Anand Pandian: finding new ways of conceiving, engaging, and expressing the felt impasses of the present. 

Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, by Glenn A. Albrecht: we need a hopeful vocabulary of positive emotions so that we can extract ourselves out of environmental desolation and reignite our biophilia. 

We anticipate a collective piece or a collection of pieces written during and after the wordshop, and we hope also to nurture further collaborations amongst participants. If you would like to join us, please send a short expression of interest indicating your name, disciplinary background, affiliation, whether it will be possible to meet physically at the University of Sydney (or not) and 150–200 words on why you’d like to participate and what you hope to discover. Please send this expression, and any questions, to james.dunk@sydney.edu.au by 21 March 2022. 

Dr James Dunk and Professor Anik Waldow 

School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry & Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney