Unexpected Encounters with Deep Time: Enchantment, Violence and Haunting

Research output: Research - peer-reviewSpecial issue


  • Franklin Ginn (Editor)
  • Michelle Bastian (Editor)
  • David Farrier (Editor)
  • Jeremy Kidwell (Editor)

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.
  • University of Edinburgh


The sound of rock sliding across a frozen lake Magma rising up a geothermal well Scars on the land from a mining boom Footprints of a mythic beast, left in mud Meetings such as these suggest the uncanny ability of deep time to telescope into and out of the everyday. Rather than appearing as an abstract concept, an unending line forwards or backwards, deep time is most often met in everyday encounters that disorient. Within the environmental humanities more broadly, the Anthropocene, Capitalocene and Chthulucene have brought deep time into view as a way of thinking about environmental crises. Thinking about deep time is challenging; deep time is strange and warps our sense of indebtedness to earth forces and creatures past, present and future. The time we live in is, in this respect, very much out of joint. In this special issue we explore the responsibilities that are elicited not through deep time itself, but through everyday encounters with deep time. From across recent work in the environmental humanities, we identify three key thematics through which these everyday encounters are inflected: enchantment, violence and haunting. The first theme, enchantment, is a concept tied to the core of the humanities. Stories of disenchantment remain central to definitions of modernity and the rise of secularism, and enchantment’s return, via claims of the rise of religious fundamentalism, is fundamental central to contemporary geopolitics. Within environmental literatures enchantment has been seen as a way of mobilising ethical responses on an increasingly damaged planet (e.g. Bennet) and critiqued for contributing to the forgetting of countless ‘unloved others’ (Rose & van Dooren). In this special issue we are interested the way that deep time is encountered in materiality of the everyday, explored through papers on fire, rock and ice, and the complex responsibilities that ensue. The environmental humanities have a rich tradition in witnessing the violent imprint of human activities on natural processes and landscapes. Thinking about deep time, however, resituates humans and other earthlings amid longer-run geological, biological and cosmic forces with potentially violent impacts on ‘life’. We are interested to explore some of the ways through which violence can be generative of certain forms of community, through papers on magma, damaged Mongolian landscapes, and domestic microbiopolitics in the West. The final theme, haunting, explores the ethical challenge of confessing to the future, a mythical black beast and toxic waste dumps. Haunting is suggestive of both the impress of the fantastic upon the real (‘conjuring’ ghosts), and of the potential for acts of violence or rupture to echo into the present (and beyond). It allows us to think about how the ghostly helps us to think about the connections that exist between apparently very distant times and states of being. These papers ask kind of change in perspective can we achieve by knowing ourselves as the ghosts who will endure in the dark ecological futures inaugurated by our collective actions? By selecting these three themes we aim to rework key conceptual concerns of the environmental humanities by placing them in relation to deep time, thus showing how the environmental humanities can multiply our temporal registers and reframe deep time as productive, homely and wondrous, as well as unsettling, uncanny and dangerous.


Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Humanities
StateAccepted/In press - 2019