The Pathogenesis of the Modern Climate

  • Michael Boyden Uppsala University
Keywords: Climate, historical semantics, Koselleck, secular eschatology, crisis

Abstract

      This article offers an exploratory semantic analysis of the concept of climate through the lens of Reinhart Koselleck’s theory of historical semantics. After discussing reasons for its absence in Koselleck’s own scholarly investigations into the semantics of modernity, the article argues that the word climate acquired the properties of a freestanding concept in the course of the eighteenth century. The steep rise in the word’s relative frequency at that time is explained in terms of its relevance to contemporary perceptions of time, and more particularly the rise of the progress narrative as a driver of human-made history. The article equally traces the concept’s decline in the course of the nineteenth century by pointing to developments in the sciences and the secularization of eschatology. Finally, the article reflects on the concept’s revival since the latter half of the twentieth century. Focusing specifically on the recent emergence of collocations such as “climate crisis,” the article argues that, in its orientation towards an open future, climate change communication reveals its reliance on the temporal framework of accelerating progress that it at the same time holds responsible for our warming planet. The article concludes with a plea to pay closer attention to the temporal presuppositions underlying climate change communication. 

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Author Biography

Michael Boyden, Uppsala University

Michael Boyden is an associate professor of American Literature at Uppsala University, Sweden. Recent publications include an issue of Early American Literature on the “New Natural History” (2019) and a collected volume entitled Climate in American Literature and Culture (forthcoming at Cambridge University Press). Boyden is working on a monograph entitled Climate and Sensibility in the American Tropics.

Published
2020-03-08
Section
Articles: Cultures of Climate. On Bodies and Atmospheres in Modern Fiction