Friday, March 13, 2020

Two at a time

A long-established habit of mine is to have two books on the go at the same time. More often than not one of them will be fiction, but then that’s not always the case. Whatever the combination might be at any one time I often tend to find that the two different texts interact with one another in unpredictable ways. And what’s more their subject matter or themes can often connect with what I’m writing about in my professional life, and I suppose that’s down to the sense I’m actively making in the moment, as it were. Reason aside, it feels like a productive way of proceeding. But then there’s always room for exceptions, and the two I’ve just completed over the last few days have combined in altogether surprising ways and ways that don’t relate to anything I’m writing about at all. Michel Serres’ book Hominescence, which I commented on before, is a really engaging overview of those recent shifts that have led to a changed experience of what it means to be human, to be globally connected and to have become an all-powerful species on the planet. And then Europe: the first 100 million years, by palaeontologist Tim Flannery, traces the long and diverse history of fauna on our continent – including for example wisent, aurochs, elephants, big cats and a long succession of hominids and hybrids. Of course, Flannery works on a larger timescale in which periods of interdependence, species dominance and extinction move across the landscape of Europe like shadows cast by moving cloud. In some senses you could say that Hominescence expands on Flannery’s final chapters, and certainly some of Serres’ ethical considerations gain traction when we consider the variety of rewilding projects and ecological conundrums that are described in the Europe book. But what unites the two authors is actually a sense of optimism. Flannery is stronger on detail when it comes to climate change but he still believes that humans can turn things around. And although there’s a wistful tone to Serres’ recollections of pre-war France there’s still a strong commitment to the future possibilities of global connection. And now that very idea of inter-connected humanity comes to the fore when considering responses to the Coronavirus pandemic. It could well be a test case for hominescence. Can we work together across national and political boundaries to do what is best? Only time will tell. And in the meantime it’s a case of what to read next and that will become even more significant to me if we decide to increase social distance. What better way to spend the time; two at a time.

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