The coming catastrophe poses a challenge to thinking. Only recently have the interrelated events of human-induced climate change and mass extinction begun to unfold as a global media event of proportional magnitude. The proliferation of discourses around impending anthropogenic doom seems to have reached a virtual tipping point, from which there is no return to a “business as usual”-attitude. As the environmental conditions on which all human life depends change in ever more alarming rates, there seem to be few aspects of life, of policy making, and of theoretical work, that can remain unchanged. 

But what are the questions that the coming catastrophe – as a current catastrophe – poses? And what responses are formulated within the academic disciplines that are commonly subsumed under the name of “the humanities”? What reconfigurations of 
methods, of research topics, of collaboration and of “thinking together” are due to be taken into account? Finally, how can a response to the possibility of human finitude be grasped in thought, when “thought of the end of the world necessarily evokes the correlate problem of the end of thought” (Danowski, de Castro, 2017: 19)? Is it an option to refrain from thinking?

A number of theoreticians have responded to this challenge by beginning the work of “naming”, ranging from such broad categories as “Anthropocene” to re-adaptations of more peculiar concepts such as the “Gaia”- and “Medea”-hypotheses, as well as critical re-namings like “Capitalocene”, “Chthulucene” or “Plantationocene”. Isabelle Stengers has famously called for a new kind of “transcendence” in light of the “cold panic” that has befallen the proponents of infinite economic growth. She proposes to formulate the question of what is to be done “in a mode that forces us to think about what the possibility of a future that is not barbaric requires” (Stengers, 2015: 25).  In a different register, but with similar impetus, the media theoretician Sean Cubitt calls for a thinking of the finitude of technological media, whose “constituent elements – matter and energy, information and entropy, time and space […] – are finite resources in the closed system of planet Earth” (Cubitt, 2017: 7). Others have pre-emptively chosen to abandon the project of humanity altogether, somewhat paradoxically, without being able to abandon also the language-based human conventions of philosophy and writing.

Scholars in the field of cultural and media theory, particularly in Weimar, are used to observing phenomena of change in terms of their historical becoming. While the identification of the historical causes (and causers) of anthropogenic change is decisive for the assessment of “what there is to be done”, the current situation is unique in that it also challenges habitual modes of thinking and forces us to train our eyes on the things to come.

Video zur Podiumsdiskussion
Rebekka Ladewig, Weimar am 29. Oktober 2019