Day 2. Anthrodecentrism : Humans as Footnotes in Time and Space

The influential “Earthrise” photograph, taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft as it orbited the moon in December, 1968. William Anders/NASA

Institut Catholique de Paris, 27-29 January 2021

‘Anthrodecentrism: Humans as Footnotes in Time and Space’

Webinar series

Webinar #1. January 27th, 2021.

2.00-4.00. TIME

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past

2.00-2.10. Welcome address and introduction.

Chair: Dr. Sarah Gould (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

2.10-2.40. Keynote address: Dr. Michelle Bastian (Edinburgh College of Art): “Fixing our attention on the clock: A note on a note from Bergson’s Duration and Simultaneity.”

2.40-3.00. Questions

3.00-4.00.

John MacDonald (Brock University, Ontario Canada)

“Healing Through Nietzsche’s Twofold Eternal Return: The Philosophy Of Time From Aristotle To Heidegger and Beyond”

Julie Momméja (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3)

“Rethinking the future, 10,000 years at a time: the Clock of the Long Now”

Webinar #2. January 28th, 2021.

5pm-7pm. IMAGINED FUTURES

Chair: Dr. Estelle Murail (Catholic University of Paris)

Keynote address: David Farrier (University of Edinburgh): “Readings from Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils

Vincent Jaunas (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3)

“Yearning for Humanity’s Fourth Narcissistic Wound: Anthrodecentrism in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)”

Dr. Diane Leblond (Université de Lorraine)

“The Purpose of Aliens. Challenging Anthropocentrism and Encountering Otherness in ‘Story of your Life’ and Arrival”

Webinar #3. January 29th, 2021.

2.30-4.30. ANTHRODECENTRIC STORIES

Chair: Dr. Diane Leblond (Université de Lorraine)

Dr. William McKenzie (Université de Lorraine)

“Shakespeare’s Spirits… and our Anthropo-de-centred ZeitGeist”

Dr. Emilie Walezak (Université Lumière Lyon 2)

“Anthropomorphism Vs. Anthropocentrism: Contemporary Short Stories as Onto-Stories”

Héloïse Thomas (Université Bordeaux Montaigne)

“Schrödinger’s Hello Kitty Lunchbox: Dream Crows, Quantum Theory, and the Anthropocene in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For the Time Being

Register on Eventbrite here to receive a zoom link one hour before each panel.

CFP: ‘Anthrodecentrism: Humans as Footnotes in Time and Space’

This study day will consider changes in understanding of time and space that challenge traditional ways of situating ourselves as humans at the centre of our own world. In the Western world, our centrality was first called into question by the scientific exploration of the cosmos. The vast universe uncovered by Copernicus and Galileo came to supersede the reassuring geocentric model imagined by ancient and medieval thinkers who firmly placed the earth and man at the centre of the universe. Biological examinations of our own world, and especially the understanding of the mechanisms of evolution, also contributed to this process of decentering. Charles Darwin concluded The Descent of Man by reminding us that man is a human animal carrying the ‘indelible stamp of his lowly origin’.[1]

Today, evolutionary biology positions us as creatures at the end of a flimsy twig on a four-billion-year-old tree of life. The current climate crisis is a sobering reminder of the precariousness of our position on that branch, with global warming constantly reducing the space available for (human) life on Earth and scenarios of ecological collapse pointing to possible human extinction in the near future. And though the emergence of the category of the ‘Anthropocene’ sounds like a new, negative reminder of humans’ central place in their world, it does not actually counteract the impact of discoveries in the fields of geology and paleontology, which first showed human existence to be a mere sliver in the timeline of planet Earth. On geological timescales, the Anthropocene is an event, not an epoch.

Beyond questioning our central place in space and time, contemporary physics has challenged these categories themselves by suggesting their particular relevance to human experience. The theory of relativity and quantum theory have shown our notions of time and space to be deeply anthropocentric. As theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli explains, time as we generally understand it is a point of view that we humans share as a result of our biology and evolution, our place on Earth, and the planet’s place in the universe – time is a story we are always telling ourselves. In the ‘elementary grammar of the world, there is neither space nor time—only processes that transform physical quantities from one to another, from which it is possible to calculate possibilities and relations.’[2]

In short, science has not ceased to expand our understanding of time and space in ways that are not easily reconciled with our own embodied experience. These discoveries have had a profound impact on the way we conceive of humans in time and space. They have changed our philosophical and critical landscape, and demanded that we rethink the category of the human.

As Clifford Geertz points out, ‘man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun’.[3] This interdisciplinary conference seeks to critically examine how new discoveries in our understanding of time and space have kept reconfiguring this web of significance – and the place of humans within it. Our inability to apprehend both the infinite and the infinitesimal keeps calling for creative strategies to reposition ourselves in a world we cannot immediately comprehend.

This study day will particularly welcome papers looking at representations of the human in response to our changing understanding of time and/or space, or examining the rethinking of the category of the human together with the rethinking of time and/or space. We welcome papers from a variety of disciplines, such as literature, arts, history, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, philosophy, as well as the use of diverse theoretical tools.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Representations of time and/or space in literature and art
  • Narrative strategies that deal with news ideas of time and/or space
  • Representations of decentering, past and present (heliocentrism, cosmos, the universe)
  • The notion of deep time and its representation
  • The representation of differing forms of time (cyclical, spiral, dreamtime, memory or linear time)
  • Time and space in science fiction
  • Changing representations of time and space in the age of the Anthropocene
  • Long-term thinking
  • Long nows, short tomorrows
  • Reworkings of the place of the human in time and space
  • The absence of humans
  • The construction of pre-worlds, this world, other worlds
  • Non-human, posthuman, transhuman
  • Artworks that play with scale to question our centrality as humans

     This conference day will be convened by Dr. Estelle Murail and Dr. Delphine Louis-Dimitrov with the support of the Faculty of Humanities of the ICP (EA 7403 – UR “Religion, Culture et Société”). It will be held on In December 2020 at the Catholic University of Paris (74 rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris).

Proposals of 300 words and a short biography should be sent to Dr. Diane Leblond (diane.leblond@univ-lorraine.fr), Dr. Sarah Gould (sarah.gould@univ-paris1.fr), Dr. Estelle Murail (e.murail@icp.fr) and Dr. Delphine Louis-Dimitrov (d.louisdimitrov@icp.fr) by September 1st, 2020.

This study day is part of the project ‘Deconstructing anthropocentrism: Humanities After Humans?’, which is a project in collaboration between Dr. Sarah Gould (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, EA 4100 – HiCSA – histoire culturelle et sociale de l’art), Dr. Diane Leblond (Université de Lorraine, EA 2338 – IDEA) and Dr. Estelle Murail (ICP, EA 7403 – UR “Religion, Culture et Société”).

You will find more information about the project on our website: https://humanitiesafterhumans.wordpress.com/


[1] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man [1871], chap. 21, General Summary and Conclusion.

[2] Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time (London: Penguin Random House, 2018), 116.

[3] Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1973), 5.

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