Inventing Nature: Re-writing Time and Agency in a More-than-Human World

Australian Humanities Review 47:99-116 (2009)
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This paper is a response to Val Plumwoods call for writers to engage in ‘the struggle to think differently’. Specifically, she calls writers to engage in the task of opening up an experience of nature as powerful and as possessing agency. I argue that a critical component of opening up who or what can be understood as possessing agency involves challenging the conception of time as linear, externalised and absolute, particularly in as much as it has guided Western conceptions of process, change and invention. I explore this through anthropologist Carol Greenhouse's claim that social conceptions of time can be read as theories of agency. Thus, in seeking to respond to Plumwood’s call to think differently, the question becomes: what kind of writing would enable a fundamental re-thinking of agency without, however, ignoring the way Western notions of agency have been shaped by linear accounts of time? I look to Jacques Derrida's work as one example. I first locate the possibility of re-writing time and agency in the experiential aspects of his writing, which I argue interrupt both the reader’s sense of agency and linear models of reading. But further, I connect Derrida’s work directly with Plumwood’s by examining how his deconstruction of the Western concept of invention may enable another account of creative change that could reshape what counts as ‘agency’ within the Anthropocene.

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Michelle Bastian
University of Edinburgh


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