In 1938, Marcel Mauss gave a lecture entitled ‘Une catégorie de l’esprit humain: la notion de personne, celle de “moi”’ (‘A category of the human mind: the notion of person, the notion of “self”’). The lecture traces various historical configurations of the ‘person’, from the strictly delimited tribal ‘role’, through the Roman persona – a mask or character in a dramatic play, as well as a legal subject entitled to the inheritance of an estate – all the way to the modern sense of a ‘moral person’ who is ‘conscious, independent, autonomous, free and responsible’. But this teleology, which reaches its provisional apotheosis in the ‘precision’ and ‘clarity’ of the European present, is constantly undermined by a notable insecurity as to the ontological status of that very present. Mauss begins his narrative with contemporary native American tribes, implicitly framing them as prehistoric, while simultaneously insisting on their present actuality, a contradiction that arouses an affective malaise that might be described as a fear of kitsch, whereby seemingly authentic tribal practices and symbols become degraded to the status of inauthentic commodities. Beyond this ambiguity, however, Mauss effectively delineates two main trajectories of the person: what one might call the ‘impersonal’ person, unconnected to subjective interiority, which was functional within tribal communities and, in a different way, in Roman law (and which continues in political thought through Hobbes and, later, Gramsci and Althusser, as Peter D. Thomas notes in The Gramscian Moment), and the ‘moral person’ that emerged with the Stoics and became consolidated in Christianity (and was continued via Locke and Kant).More
by Daniel Hartley.
The Anthropocene is a term geologists have begun using to refer to a new geological epoch, in which the action of humans has had such a dramatic effect upon the Earth’s climate, land, oceans and biosphere that humanity itself must now be considered a geological force in its own right1. Whilst there is some disagreement over when precisely the Anthropocene began, scientists generally date it to the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, mainly because of the newly-invented steam engine and the enormous expansion in the use of fossil fuels. The evidence adduced for the ‘Anthropocene’ is a series of stratigraphic signals – that is, lithological, geochemical and palaeobiological traces that are measured and interpreted by geologists in the present, or which will be read by imagined geologists in the future2.More