continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 5.2 / 2016: 53-56

Masahiro Terada

a continent. inter-view

(image by Nina Jäger, continent.

Masahiro TERADA 寺田匡宏 is a visiting associate professor at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (Kyoto, Japan) and a research fellow at the National Museum of Ethnology (Osaka, Japan). Initially a socio-economic historian of the 18th and 19th centuries, his research interests shifted to the problem of historical representation, museum anthropology, and narratives of history. Deploying a meta-historical method, he concentrates on analyzing the relationship between environment, history and memory. Terada’s recent publications include: What You Are Waiting for on the Top of the Volcano, or Towards a New ’Scienzia Nuova’ of Humanity and Nature (Showado, 2015)[1] and Memory and Representation (Showado, 2009).[2] His recent exhibitions include: “someday, for somebody: Museum for <partage> of memory after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake” (Kobe: CAP House, 2005); “Documenting Disaster 1703-2003: Earthquake, Volcanic Explosion, Tsunami, and Reconstruction” (Chiba: National Museum of Japanese History, 2003). How did you get here?
I was a participant in the Anthropocene Campus. We received the call for participation at my university and I applied. That is a very practical answer, but I have a strong interest in the themes being explored around the Anthropocene concept.[3] What technical systems are operating on us right now?
MT: How we behave is a product of technology. What I wear is made by technology. The time on which I depend is a product of my watch and therefore of technology. So, almost all things are regulated by technology. I think this is what is being implied by the technosphere concept. What pieces of the technosphere do you have on you?
MT: A particular object? This floor, this room, this glass. If I imagine that landscape without that tree[4], it might be the technosphere; if I could cut that tree, it is the technosphere. The tree is also the product of technosphere, so it is difficult to point at the particular thing without losing a sense of specificity.[5] What is the technosphere?
MT: For me, the idea of technosphere is combined with the idea of co-evolution.[6] Co-evolution is the idea that an “us” must deal with the entire history, that deep time is just as important to how we understand “us.” The idea is very provocative, because it insists on the mutual influences at work in the process that develops humanity and subjects as well as other things. This perspective provokes questions about the techniques of nonhuman animals (or the techniques of living things) in order to adequately account for problems in technology.[7] 

From this perspective we might think of the bird nests or ant hills as a technology. I'm interested in conversations that explore to what degree this idea is applicable and useful. Human beings are a kind of primate; if the technosphere is a very gradual process at work in the world, to carve humans out of this process with this Anthropocene concept, to ignore our mutual co-evolution, seems ill-advised. The technosphere concept might be a useful prompt for exploring this question. Please pick one image that resonates with your idea of the technosphere?[8] 
MT: The technosphere for me is very abstract, so I picked the most abstract image from all these pictures because it is very abstract. It represents my impression of the technosphere. It is a non-representational answer. Sorry for a tricky answer. Notes 

[1] EDITORS’ NOTE: The original title for this Japanese language paper is: 寺田匡宏 『人は火山に何を見るのか—環境と記憶/歴史』. 地球研叢書. 昭和堂, 京都市左京区.

[2] 寺田匡宏 『記憶表現論』. 昭和堂, 京都市左京区, 2009. (In Japanese)

[3] EDITORS’ NOTE: Terada’s report on the first Anthropocene Campus was published in the Humanity & Nature Newsletter in 2015. 寺田匡宏 「「アンソロポシーン・キャンパス」参加報告 Anthropocene Curriculum & Anthropocene Campus 20014年11月14日ー22日」. Humanity & Nature 地球研ニュース. 53 (2015):12. (In Japanese).

[4] EDITORS’ NOTE: Joseph Beuys, in conversation with Richard Demarco stated, “I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heartwood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet ever since the Druids, who are called after the oak. Druid means oak. They used their oaks to define their holy places. I can see such a use for the future....” (Joseph Beuys. “Interview with Richard Demarco, 1982.” In Energy Plan for the Western Man: Joseph Beuys in America. Compiled by Carin Kuoni. (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1990): 111.)

[5] EDITORS’ NOTE: Following Masao Maruyama’s creative examination of Tokugawa culture, Terada explores the role of twelfth century Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹 in the formation of modern Japanese social philosophy. Particular emphasis is placed on the the Zhu’s claim that human beings are not the sole possessors of rationality (li 理). Rather than an aspect internal to humans, li (which can also be translated as “pattern,” or “principle”) is integral to all aspects of the cosmos. On the multiple valences of li, see Brook Ziporyn. “Form, Principle, or Coherence? Li 理 in Chinese PhilosophyPhilosophy Compass 3, no. 3 (2008): 401–422.

How is the tree a part of the Technosphere? All elements of the cosmos are composed of li, they all participate in the patterned unfolding of historical processes. All things are in a state of becoming (naru なる). Terada highlights the importance of moving away from preconceptions and biases that limit the technological—and technological history—to only a product of human making. In this way, the tree of the technosphere is all of its roots, growth, reproduction and decay—all of its energies, of naru becoming.

[6] EDITORS’ NOTE: Thinking about co-evolution, we also have to consider a co-history; where non-human technologies develop, how do we trace these evolutions? Human and non-human technologies—processes of becoming—are intricately linked. Can we broaden our vision to also encompass histories beyond those of humanity (not to mention those beyond dominant Euro-American historicity)? Vanessa Watts explains the foundational principles of Indigenous Place-Thought, “Our ability to have sophisticated governance systems is directly related to not only the animals’ ability to communicate with us, but their willingness to communicate with us.” Vanessa Watts. “Indigenous Place-Thought and Agency Amongst Humans and Non-humans (First Woman and Sky Woman Go on a European World Tour!) Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 2, no. 1 (2013): 30.

Ecological histories are significant not only to an understanding of the cosmological role of a technosphere, but to inform and manipulate the materiality of media. Jussi Parikka observes that these alternative co-histories have always been documented in, “rust, dysfunction—a time of a different sort—languages of junk, pathology, geology, chemical reactions.” Jussi Parikka. “Mutating Media Ecologies.” continent. 4, no. 2 (2015): 24. Greater interconnectedness and complexity between “spheres” (rather, an increasing non-distinction of spheres, or as Lucy Suchman points out in her interview in this issue: “mess, slippage, non-coherence”), and awareness towards the agency of other beings, requires an intensified sensitivity towards these non-human languages and the histories that they enscribe.

[7] EDITORS’ NOTE: On the agency of all matter: “To be animate goes beyond being alive or acting, it is to be full of thought, desire, contemplation and will.” Vanessa Watts contrasts Indigenous Place-Thought with the contemporary turn in Euro-American thought towards this greater complexity of networks, but where the latter retains a self-destructive epistemological-ontological rift: “Interconnectivity is permitted, but only insofar as distinction from the thinking human and the acting natural world. True, the borders of flesh and soil rub up against each other but this does not mean one is guided by the other. The border where human-as-the-centre begins still exists and continues to determine the bounds for capacity and action.” (Watts. ibid. 29.)

[8] EDITORS’ NOTE: During the discussions, interviewees were asked to pick from a set of somewhat random images. This collection of different phenomena served as a prompt for thought on the forms of appearance and the visuality of the technosphere. You can view the set here The discussion here refers to