Landscapes of Extraction and the Memories of Extinction in Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia de la luz and El botón de nácar
Focusing on Guzmán's essay films Nostalgia de la luz (2010) and El botón de nácar (2015), in this article I argue that the ambiguity between reference and abstraction that pervades the visual representation of landscape in late capitalism offers a productive way to map out the processes of extinction caused by continual histories of extraction. This ambiguity not only reveals the limits of the landscape-form to convey the degradation of nature, but also the progressive disappearance of the human subject from the center of history in such spaces where capital seeks time and time again to resolve its internal contradictions through new forms of resource extraction. In this fashion, Guzmán’s totalizing aspiration to represent the historical, archaeological, and even cosmological pasts through the landscapes of the Atacama Desert and Patagonia becomes a way to explain how capital has moved from the human to the planetary, which entails a larger alteration of ecological metabolism and transforms extinction into the only historical horizon. I conclude that the memory of past processes of extraction and extinction inscribed in these landscapes can also function as a prolepsis of a future without us, thus presenting an opportunity to reactivate the subject’s historical potential to change the way we relate to nature.
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