Climate’s Time. The Temporalization of Nature in Modern Fiction
From Antiquity to the late eighteenth century, »climate« is a local category: it refers to the ethnic and cultural differences between men, ascribing them to the differences of local climate. With Herder’s cultural anthropology on the one hand, and with the discovery of »deep time« in geology by Cuvier and Buffon on the other, however, climate as a category of stable local conditions is put into question. Meteorology, geology and anthropology, as well as literary texts, start pointing out a »history of earth’s climate« that has engraved itself on the surface of the planet. From the discovery of the ice-ages to today’s advanced forms of climate simulations, »climate« has thus become a category that is historical and global.
Referring both to human time and nature’s time, climate has been temporalized and entered the world of aesthetics. Literature and art in the modern age represent not only singular weather phaenomena but climate, e.g. in the form of allegorical or lyrical representation of the »seasons«, the depiction of weather events such as storms, thunderstorms etc. as symptoms of changing climate, in catastrophic weather but also utopic phantasies about man-made manipulations of climate. Unlike weather, however, climate is not manifest in the form of singular events but is something abstract and latent: »Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get« (Robert Heinlein). Climate is only graspable in the form of abstract averages, expectations, and rules of thumb. It therefore has to be deciphered in historical documents and fictions as a form of latency, a »background phenomenon«.
The project aims at two aspects of the aesthetic representation of climate in the modern age: On the one hand, it will outline the temporalization and »historicization« of climate in the history of modern sciences relating to climate (geology, meteorology, anthropology) and in literary texts ranging from the eighteenth century to the present (project part A) . On the other hand, it will particularly focus on utopias and dystopias of erratic, extreme, and changing climate. In fictions of a changing or manipulated climate, man re-thinks his/her relation to nature as a realm of ungraspable and uncontrollable »atmosphere« (project part B) in which human nature is deeply enmeshed. The project thus points out a genealogy of the aesthetic reflection of what has today come to be labelled the »anthropocene«: an epoch in which man has left an indelebile mark on the face of the planet.