Elisée Reclus and the Discovery of the Earth

Authors: John Clark*, La Terre Institute for Community and Ecology
Topics: Social Geography, Political Geography, Environment
Keywords: anarchism, domination, interstitiality, liberation, New Orleans, Reclus
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


French social geographer Elisée Reclus explored the ontological, epistemological, historical, political, moral and phenomenological dimensions of the process of discovery of the Earth. He was the first to recount in minute detail, through his 16,000-page Nouvelle Géographie Universelle and his 3500-page L’Homme et la Terre, the geohistorical narrative (or anarchic counter-narrative) of humanity-in-nature. Through this project, he became the unfounding founder of anarchist geography, showing that geography can be written from either an archic or an anarchic perspective: on behalf the system of domination, or on behalf of the liberation of humanity and the Earth. Reclusian anarchist geography is a discourse of unity-in-plurality, in which not only the human community and person, but also geographical phenomena are seen as expressions of universal particularity and universal singularity. As Reclus begins his Histoire d’un Ruisseau, the history of even the smallest stream “is the history of infinity.” We conclude with reflections on New Orleans from the Reclusian standpoint of anarchist geography, 164 years after Reclus’ arrival here. This approach reveals New Orleans to be an "apocalyptic city," in both the popular and the creative, utopian senses of this term, an "edge city," positioned at the geographical, cultural, political, and economic margins, poised on the brink of the abyss, an "interstitial city," replete with fecund, generative gaps between “that which stands,” and an "antistitial city," always threatening, with the aid of both nature and culture, to subvert “that which stands.”

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