For a special lecture bridging medical, environmental, and literary humanities within our Explorations in the Medical Humanities series, Professor Anne-Lise François (Associate Professor, Departments of English and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley) posed the question of how our thinking about human temporality can change when we avail ourselves to alternative modalities of seasonality and cyclicality besides diurnal rhythms. Taking a cue from the work of Dana Luciano—among others—Professor François engages with how the Anthropocene has prompted us to think about living in a time out of time, amidst the impacts of climate change and irreversible alterations to the planetary biota. We might recover a sense of rich seasonality by minimizing and pluralizing seasons’ distribution across time, and look to lunar seasonality and the micro-seasons it provides.
Three examples ground Professor François’ consideration of lunar seasonality and her examination of different modes of parsing temporality. The seasonality of fire for Californian Native Americans and the environment, poignantly marked in the landscape by microdifferences within the diversity of Californian wildflowers, opens up a model of seasonality that entangles different cycles over multiple years. Fire’s seasonality in the Californian ecology invites us to think of overlapping seasonalities, without being limited to the seasons given by the Earth’s position relative to the Sun. In a second exemplary model, water collection practices among desert-dwelling Indians as studied by Anupam Mishra allows us to think of temporality as a system of relays of accumulation. Both examples illuminate a precarious but precious durability, composed of relatively small or short-lived extensions, but whose shortness also means a constant renewal. Professor François finds a third example for structuring time and cycles in the moon, within Sappho’s poetic fragments, which illustrate the interrelation and interaction of multiple temporalities in the variations of lunar time. Lunar seasonality is marked by not only the repetition of a pattern, but the repetition of patterns with relation to other patterns.
The range of sources for such alternative practices of temporality encourages us to think broadly, and simultaneously highlights the richness of vernacular knowledge in thinking of different seasons—not as autonomously existing systems, but relative to one another. “A lot is still happening,” Professor François said, with regard to hopefulness in the face of the seeming monumentality of the Anthropocene, “even when it looks finished.”
Ami Yoon is a graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.