What Will We Do Now, When The Past is Lost and The Future is Gone?

By Aikan B. Helfjord.

In 2000 Paul Crutzen spoke a word on a conference, and the world shook. The word was “anthropocene”, purposed as the name of the current age where human impact upon the planet we are living on is visible in the very earth beneath us. That's how the story is often told, anyhow [1]. The Anthroposcene is now the word of the day, a possible new name for a phase in the history of the earth where mankind has lost its course. "Anthropos" is in its classical form often translated as "man" [2], back in the day when all humans were men if a person is to believe the written sources [3] "cene" is Greek meaning new, recent or simply period and is the traditional ending for the names of geological time periods. Anthropos also means “human” though; we're all stuck in this together, dancing with the winds of change.

“Democene?” There has been a lot of debate surrounding the choice of "anthropos" as the defining mark of our era. Putting "the human" centre stage at a time where perhaps the humans should exit stage left and focus on collective survival of earth in a shape that is at least a little bit as we've come to know it.

McKenzie Wark, among others, has steadily proposed that if we get hung up in the discussing of the name, we're missing the point [4] the points of crisis and calls to urgent action. However, words and terms tend to frame how we think about things, the grand rhetorical narrative of the common “we” doesn’t sit too well with everybody in this post-colonial, post-modern and not-yet-post-apocalyptic world we are living in where “we, the people," are responsible for this [5]. We, as in people with

(somewhat historical) citizen statuses in the industrialised West/North/Global North/First World/MEDC [6] which is more or less democratic are the responsible parts. Why not say democene, then? Letting us own our historical mistakes. «Demos» is Greek for “citizen”, a dweller og the (city) state, and is often understood as meaning “people” after all.

In an interview with Martha Kenney, Donna Haraway, who herself proposed the “Chtulicene” (apparently the word is not directly derived from the Lovecraftian entity Cthulhu itself, but named after a spider), points to the notion that "anthropos" for many implies something along the lines of "the one who looks up from the earth" [7], unlike the view of "the human", which shares a tie to compost via humus, perhaps being a more fruitful way of thinking about the issue at hand [8]. If a person is to combine the two notions though, the stargazer and the living dirt, the result might be something along these lines: Humans — being on the earth, being in the earth, being the earth walking upon itself. Did you know that the Bengali word for “they" sounds exactly the same as the their word for “stars?" [9]

The Past is Lost: Solastalgia

There is no turning back. That’s what the Anthropocene implies, there has been too many changes, too fast, too much for the environment to play catch-up in the foreseeable future. The earth has a scheduled destruction taking place about 5 billion years from now, when the sun’s exploding. Meanwhile however, the planet itself will be just fine, but the stories of the living organisms dwelling here are different. The intergenerational stories of who we are and what we doing are changing, even for humans. Some species never even got the opportunity to change with us.

Solastalgia, a word coined by Glenn Albrecht working with rural communities in New South Wales, is used to describe an almost visceral sense of grief and displacement faced by human beings dealing with the loss of traditional livelihoods and sudden environmental changes [10]. Solastalgia; a deep, profound longing for life as it used to be. A kind of homesickness relating to nature, customs and the environment, rather than a longing for the company of particular people.

The Norwegian photographer Marte Aas has in her works Solastalgia and What I Miss About People, and What I Don't Miss About People explored notions of environmental destruction, exemplified with a quarry, and the possible future of mammal life without humans being in the picture. The dog that is the main character featured in the movie What I Don't Miss About People keeps naming things it used to enjoy with the everyday life as a domesticated dog, like walks and leftover food, and some things it’s totally okay with being gone alongside the humans.

The Future is Gone: Hauntology

Drawing upon the work of Derrida, the term “hauntology” have come to describe a kind of nostalgia for lost futures. The kind that is often found in popcultural works and post-modern art that draws heavily upon decades long passed when envisioning a possible future [11]. A prime, recent example might be the novel, and later blockbuster movie, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline which somehow manages to seamlessly blend 1980s aesthetics and geek culture with a dytopian future set in 2044 [12]

Hauntology; the loss of optimism about what comes next, haunting us all like a ghost

of Christmas past.

Are we all too late?

The World is Ending, Let's Dance

This is the age of the something-is-off-cene, where it’s getting de facto harder for people, including all kinds of non-human beings, to sustain their livelihoods the way they always have. No matter how one is to put things, there seems to be a general agreement that a) humans are capable of changing the environment and b) the environment is capable of changing humans. Changing for the better, changing for the worse, before exiting stage left. There is no turning back, and the future is mostly

unknown to the lot of us. How we, you and I, and whoever stumbles upon this text will cope is up to us. The world is ending, let's dance.


  1. Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene. The Earth, History and Us (London/New York: Verso Books, 2016).

  2. Donna Haraway in conversation with Martha Kenny, "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulhucene" available online: https://lasophielle.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/ab1cd-artanthro_haraway_proof.pdf.

  3. See for instance literary works as diverse as older translations of the Bible, the works of Shakespeare and the writings of Emma Goldman.

  4. MacKenzie Wark, "Chthulucene, Capitalocene, Anthropocene," PUBLIC SEMINAR, available online: https://onscenes.weebly.com/philosophy/chthulucene-capitalocene-anthropocene.

  5. See the works of Sara Ahmed, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Kimberlé Crenshaw, bell hooks, Zoe Todd and ever so many more.

  6. More economically developed country.

  7. Donna Haraway and Martha Kenny, "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chtulhocene," 256.

  8. Ibid., 259-260.

  9. See: Tanaïs, "Why Changing My Name Is a Celebration of My Identity, My Past, and My Future": https://www.them.us/story/name-change-identity-tanais.

  10. Albrecht, Glenn, et al. "Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change." Australasian psychiatry 15.sup1 (2007): S95-S98.

  11. Fisher, Mark. "What is Hauntology?." FILM QUART 66.1 (2012): 16-24.

  12. Ernest Cline, Ready Player One (London: Century Random House, 2011).