Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

INTRODUCTION: Extreme: Limits and Horizons in the Once and Future Cosmos

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

INTRODUCTION: Extreme: Limits and Horizons in the Once and Future Cosmos

Article excerpt

abstract

This paper introduces a special collection of Anthropological Quarterly for examining "the extreme" in contemporary modernity. Drawing upon sites of political, scientific, and economic engagement that source specifically to the extraterrestrial, we argue that the figure of the extreme shapes an analytic of limits and ever-opening horizons-epistemological and physical-provoking new understandings of humanness, environment, temporality, and of inter-species life as we think we understand it, here on Earth. It follows that this framework is not restricted to the environment of outer space: the analytic of the extreme, which is broadly salient in contemporary imagination and social practice, opens to examination of how all modern subjects are capable of upending modernity's everyday spaces and timelines. The assembled papers cohere around this commitment. Coming in from very different angles, each seriously considers the possibility of outcomes not anticipated by analytic or vernacular explanatory frameworks, while refusing to commit anthropologists to the dangers of prognostication. [Keywords: Future, mobility, outer space, innovation, modernity, world making]

Foreign language translations:

Extreme: Humans at Home in the Cosmos

[Keywords: Future, mobility, outer space, innovation, modernity, world making]

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No Extremo: Humanos em Casa nos Cosmos

[Palavras Chave: Futuro, mobilidade, o espaço, innovação, modernidade, construindo mundos]

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(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

I. Extreme, Seriously

"Extreme" has increasingly come to describe diverse aspects of contemporary modern life. It persists as a synonym for the acute or exaggerated, but is now also pointedly attached to everything from weather and financial instruments to sports and makeovers, corporate brands and human practices, environments and temporalities, body modifications and diets. Political analysts grade violence in terms of its relative "extremity" (Agamben 1998, 2005); environmental scientists rank weather events as "extreme" and as signs of a climatically "different Earth" (McKibben 2010); societies debate the necessity of "extreme" deepwater and deep earth energy extraction projects (Button 2010); and anthropologists examine how corporate and governmental spokespersons promote extreme personal states or financial risks as desirable and marketable qualities (Ho 2009, Martin 2009). At the other end of the temporal scale, modern states use "extreme" to label ideologies and religious movements that are, conversely, seen by their proponents as harking back to tradition-the way things were before the extremes of modernity-or else as slipping the bonds of outdated, inauthentic moral strictures (Palmer 2004). As such, the extreme has become a signifier securely attached to the problem of what humans, human practices, and human environments have become and are becoming, while simultaneously pointing to that which is to come-in effect obscuring its own increasing ordinariness in the modern world.

By attending to how this signifier operates for subjects who engage the cosmos as an enduring horizon for meaning-making and futures, the papers in this collection contribute to a "non-normative reading of culture and history," as Masco (this issue) states, pushing "past consensus logics to interrogate what alternative visions, projects, and futures are leftunexplored at a given historical moment." We thus hold that for anthropologists, engaging the extreme requires suspending given interpretations of past and present as well as tacit agreements about which kinds of social and cultural norms and variants we should pay attention to.

How, then, does extreme operate as a trope, and how can anthropologists work with it? Or more succinctly: What does extreme do? In posing this question, we call attention to ways in which the trope of the extreme asserts and regenerates itself by tacking between, and bringing into relation, the ordinary and extraordinary. …

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