From  Ich halte alle Indien in meiner Hand , by Anselm Kiefer

The Latin American Anthropocene
SPAN UN3656, Fall 2019

Santiago Acosta
Columbia University
Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures
TR 1:10 pm – 2:25 pm

With its long history of colonialism, economic exploitation, and appropriation of natural resources, Latin America offers a privileged vantage point to study the arrival of the “Anthropocene,” a proposed new geological epoch (beginning roughly around the Industrial Revolution) where humans have become the main force shaping the planet. In order to shift the perspective away from the standard narrative of European development, this course invites students to collectively develop the idea of a “Latin American Anthropocene,” by drawing on examples from the visual arts, literature, and scientific and philosophical texts from the underdeveloped periphery. In the age of rising sea levels, mass extinction, and carbon-driven climate change, can our disciplines remain untouched by such an alarming state of affairs? This course encourages students to reflect on how the present ecological crisis forces us to break with traditional ways of understanding society, culture, and nature, as well as with common methods to interpret the past and imagine the future.

We will start by discussing how, in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Latin America, “nature” (including animals and indigenous peoples) was envisioned as a blank slate ready to take in the arrival of modernity. As we move through the semester, students will evaluate how artists and intellectuals sustained or contested different capitalist development programs based on export commodities. In the following sections, students will analyze cultural products linked to the impact of neoliberalism in the region and the contradictions that plagued the governments that came after its downfall. Near the end of the semester the class will address the question of hope and hopelessness in the face of climate change and the challenges posed by increasing political and environmental conflicts in Puerto Rico and the US-Mexico border.

The course also offers a panoramic view of Latin American culture by examining some key historical events and canonical authors whose works can shed light on cultural and ideological processes at the root of climate change. By the end of the semester students will be able to formulate research questions that are critical to the field of Latin American cultural studies, as well as produce papers that are relevant to a broader debate about culture and ecology. The course, therefore, hopes to motivate students—beyond the classroom—to examine their own place in an increasingly warming world.