Below is the video of a Zoom talk I gave in January 2023 as part of the "Future of the Humanities" Project at Georgetown. The focus of the year's presentations was environmental crisis. I'm deeply grateful the co-director of the program, Kathryn Temple, for the chance to have shared some recent work; the talk comes from the book project I'm currently working on, detailed here. I link to an accessibility copy of the text here, but the talk as I delivered it deviates just a bit from the written-out version. I'd be eager to hear any feedback on the ideas I try to lay out here, which revolve, for me, around the requirement to develop aesthetic and conceptual modes adequate to the predicament of immanence, by which I mean just that any critical posture can only ever take shape from within the catastrophe, never from outside it. As I say toward the beginning:
Given that entanglement, it seems to me that the work confronting an environmental humanities worthy of that name should be, first, to inventory the bourgeois episteme whose logics and presuppositions we breathe and speak now: this would be to develop a historical account or critique, in the Kantian sense, of ecocidal reason; and second, to go further than diagnosis to inventory counterknowledges, or build repertoires of possibility from within the confines of our own thought.
And there is a lot here about Turner's paints. Here's the abstract:
In this talk, Nathan Hensley will show how J.M.W. Turner’s still-astonishing paintings of Victorian energy transition capture a society in the midst of realizing it was killing itself. With readings of famous canvases, unfinished works, and tiny sketchbooks, Hensley will revise the common understanding of Turner’s atmospheric approach to modernization by describing the material composition of the paintings themselves. For Turner, participation in modern ruin was also a matter of pigment chemistry, painterly gesture, and experiments with point of view whereby the shipwreck of the world is viewed not from the safety of shore but from inside the vortex (Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth, 1842). This argument draws on chemical studies of Turner’s palettes and concludes with an account of Turner’s undisplayed sketchbooks, which refuse the maximalist vocabularies of his academic work in favor of the intimate, the gestural, and the unfinished: three aesthetic categories Hensley will offer as counterpoints to world-scaled terms like "the Anthropocene" and even "climate change."