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Leaving a Trace: Learning to Be Affected in the Anthropocene

Authors: Timothy Bristow*, University of Toronto
Topics: Cultural Geography, Landscape, Anthropocene
Keywords: affect, more-than-human, imaginative geographies, landscape, representation, Anthropocene
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Anthropocene is not only an epoch but a story, endlessly retold, about the exceptional power of humankind for both creation and destruction on a planetary scale. As typically conceived, this story is one of either techno-scientific salvation or ecological apocalypse—two sides of the same anthropocentric coin that are equally inadequate for the task of imagining alternative, more-than-human futures (Tsing, 2015). The narrative challenge of the Anthropocene is compounded by the difficulty of expressing the “more-than-representational” (Lorimer, 2005) dimensions of affective encounter in representational terms. If “it matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories” (Haraway, 2016), might telling the story of the Anthropocene differently allow us to live it differently? This paper examines one such retelling, Debra Granik's feature film Leave No Trace (2018).

Following the journey of a father and daughter as they struggle to live ‘off-grid’ in America’s Pacific Northwest, the film moves through a series of landscapes defined by both the unchecked expansion of planetary capitalism and the rigid separation of 'nature' and 'civilization'. While this terrain can be readily assimilated to the dominant narrative of diminishing life and liveliness in the Anthropocene, Granik’s careful, naturalistic directorial style gives these landscapes a vibrancy that belies such an apocalyptic framing, allowing them to emerge as complex characters in their own right. By emphasizing the excessive and emancipatory possibilities of these sites of more-than-human encounter, Leave No Trace is ultimately a matter of "learning to be affected" (Latour, 2004) for the film's protagonists and viewers alike.

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