THE ANTHROPOCENE SLAM: A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NOVEMBER 8-10

WISCONSIN INSTITUTES FOR DISCOVERY DELUCA FORUM MADISON

MONKEY WRENCH

photo of a monkey wrench

The monkey wrench might seem like a homely, low-class candidate for a cabinet of curiosities compared to the pedigreed instruments of the natural scientist. Yet the wrench's question-mark form asks us to reconsider. From its birth in the machine shops of the mid-nineteenth-century, the tool was once found wherever human muscle strained against a stubborn bolt; monkey wrenches had a hand in building all the infrastructure of the modern world. By 1975, thanks in part to Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang, the wrench became a potent symbol in the kit of an antimodern, direct-action environmentalism. And so the monkey wrench asks us: which tools are appropriate for the Anthropocene? Who will wield them, against what, and how: will they be used to build, repair, or destroy? The radical wrench forces us to consider violence and its role in the past, present, and future, while its long, questioning tail enquires: for whom is the Anthropocene named? Are all humans - migrant laborer and Monsanto board member, alike - equally to blame for global climate change; are we all equally implicated in the same future?

The anthropogenic disruption of histories both natural and human can be a way to pry open potential futures. The monkey wrench reminds us that we have no choice but to work, and its challenge is the same as the Anthropocene's: what world will we build with our tools, and for whose benefit?

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