Emily Rhodes: Good evening every­one. Good evening and wel­come to IDFA at De Balie. Thank you for com­ing out. The weath­er is hor­ri­ble, I know, and I’m real­ly glad that we’re all here in such a full room. Very pleased to see you all here. And a warm wel­come also to those watch­ing our livestream at home. 

My name’s Emily Rhodes. I’m a pro­gram edi­tor here at De Balie cin­e­ma, where we show beau­ti­ful doc­u­men­taries and orga­nize spe­cial screen­ings all year round, not just dur­ing IDFA. There’s been a long-standing col­lab­o­ra­tion between De Balie and IDFA, and this year De Balie has teamed up with IDFA to bring you a series of nine doc talks over the course of nine days. And to see the rest of our pro­gram at De Balie please vis­it our web site. 

Tonight we’ll be watch­ing You Think the Earth is a Dead Thing, direct­ed by Florence Lazar. And when I try to explain this film to oth­er peo­ple I end up talk­ing for ages because this film, what it tells us and I think it tells us it in such a beau­ti­ful way…it’s not that self-evident to the aver­age view­er who has­n’t seen it yet. There are so many threads in this film that are woven togeth­er and it’s real­ly hard to dis­en­tan­gle them. 

Sadly the direc­tor, Florence Lazar, was­n’t able to make it to tonight’s screen­ing to tell us more about this film. But I’m very pleased to announce that we do have a spe­cial guest here with us tonight who’s Dr. Francio Guadaloupe, who will kind­ly pro­vide us with an intro­duc­tion on the con­text in which he places this film as a schol­ar. He’s a cul­tur­al and social anthro­pol­o­gist, and he spe­cial­izes in decolo­nial and Caribbean thought among oth­er things. He works as a researcher and teacher at the University of Amsterdam. and for­mer­ly he was the pres­i­dent of the University of St. Martin on the island of Saint Martin, not too far from Martinique, where the film that we’ll be watch­ing tonight was made. 

And after his intro­duc­tion, which will be approx­i­mate­ly ten or fif­teen min­utes, there’ll be room for a cou­ple of ques­tions from our audi­ence. So please feel free to ask them. I’ll come to you with a micro­phone, and please make sure to speak into the micro­phone so that the view­ers at home can hear what you’re say­ing through the livestream as well. 

After that we’ll be watch­ing the film togeth­er, and then we can fur­ther dis­cuss over drinks at the bar. I think Francio would be very hap­py to talk to you about the film in fur­ther detail. Without fur­ther ado, please help me give a warm wel­come to talk Dr. Francio Guadaloupe.

Francio Guadaloupe: Good evening. Let me first thank Emily and De Balie and IDFA for invit­ing me to intro­duce this film. Secondly, I know that the main rea­son you’re here is to see the film, to watch the film. So I thank you for the ten min­utes of atten­tion so I can offer a sup­ple­ment to the film so that you can place the film a bit better. 

The Earth is not the planet! A decolonial introduction to the film

My talk in a nutshell:

  • The earth is not the planet! 
    • What we call the earth—with its civilizational-continental- and racial divisions—is a descen­dant of Man (so too the resistance-work that speaks and works in the idiom-practice of the earth).
    • The plan­et how­ev­er, archipelagic-liquid-and posthu­man, is what decolo­nial­i­ty under­stood as a crit­i­cal practice-idiom seeks to insti­tute (you can de-link from the west­ern project, but not from the planet).


Now, this is what I think the film is about. The Earth is not the plan­et. Whilst I watched the film a cou­ple of days ago, I jot­ted this down and I put it, as all anthropologists—or many anthro­pol­o­gists nowa­days do, on my Facebook page. And it’s a lot of jar­gon, but in a nut­shell what I’m try­ing to say is that when you look at this film you will rec­og­nize that it’s part of a tra­di­tion that says we have to think the plan­et, and we have to stop think­ing the Earth. Thinking the Earth is actu­al­ly think­ing the world in terms of dis­tinct civ­i­liza­tions, in terms of con­ti­nents, in terms of own­er­ship. Who owns cul­ture, who owns land, and how they exploit land and cul­ture and so forth. 

Planet think­ing, which is dif­fer­ent, is say­ing we share the globe togeth­er. We can’t ful­ly de-link from one anoth­er. So we will have to find a way of shar­ing the Earth togeth­er with the rest of life that exists on the Earth. And that life is min­er­al life, it is mate­r­i­al life, it is plant life, it is oth­er kinds of ani­mal life besides human beings. 

Image of the Earth with a large dirt brown bootprint pressed into it, and a quote, "You think the earth is a dead thing… It's so much more convenient! Dead, you thus trample on it"

Now, I think the film is about this, and I think the film is about the Anthropocene under­stood in a par­tic­u­lar way. The title of the film is tak­en from a dra­ma of the Martiniquan thinker and for­mer may­or of the island, Aimé Césaire, known for négri­tude, but also known for his poems in which he is actu­al­ly say­ing you can treat the world as the Earth, and then if you treat it as a dead thing, then you can just exploit it as much as you want. It’s a con­ve­nient way of look­ing at life in which we actually—the life that we inhab­it. And the film­mak­er actu­al­ly took Aimé Césaire’s the­ater piece of The Tempest, which is a rework­ing of Shakespeare, to actu­al­ly do this film. 

Because there two ways of look­ing at the Anthropocene. One way’s the dom­i­nant dis­course of the Earth, and the oth­er way is a demot­ic dis­course of the plan­et. Are you still… Am I being clear? Alright. Perfect. 

An old coal-burning train engine

The dom­i­nant dis­course. The dom­i­nant dis­course says we arrived at the Anthropocene due to the Industrial Revolution. It says the steam engine, it says the age of steel and the age of coal, all of this led to a devel­op­ment of the Earth which actu­al­ly was dev­as­tat­ing to the Earth. That’s the sto­ry behind it. 

Two children operating a large piece of machinery

It says that in the Industrial Revolution, which start­ed in the North Atlantic (England, France, the United States, Germany), it says that whilst this was tak­ing place there was a lot of exploita­tion. There was child labor, peo­ple were liv­ing in inhu­mane con­di­tions. And slow­ly, through trade unions and through revolts, this began to change. But you can’t think the Industrial Revolution with­out think­ing the exploita­tion of the major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion in the North Atlantic. 

A large mushroom cloud

The argu­ment then con­tin­ues with­in the dom­i­nant dis­course to say even though there was an eman­ci­pa­tion of the work­ers and of the pop­u­la­tion, after a while the Pandora box was such that it led to more devel­op­ments, and it led to a sit­u­a­tion in which now we can actu­al­ly destroy the Earth, after the atom­ic bomb. So it places the Anthropocene in that longer trajectory. 

Greta Thunberg speaking into a megaphone, surrounded by a large crowd of people

It also says slow­ly we are com­ing to an aware­ness of this—and you see that geo­sci­en­tists, but also activists—and the lat­est sym­bol is Greta Thunberg—slowly we are begin­ning to under­stand that we have to change our ways. This is the dom­i­nant dis­course of the Anthropocene. It’s a dis­course I think many of you are famil­iar with. 

A wide, empty beach, with clear water and blue skies to the horizon

Now, this is the dis­course to me of the Earth. For what hap­pens in this dis­course is…what is the place of the Caribbean in that? What’s the place of Africa, or the place of Asia in this dis­course? You will rec­og­nize the place of the…call it the non-West in this dis­course is a place of actu­al­ly an appen­dix. It’s places that are suf­fer­ing and we have to do some­thing to change it. But gen­er­al­ly it says the sto­ry of the Anthropocene can be explained with­out ref­er­ence nec­es­sar­i­ly to the rest of the world. You only ref­er­ence them as places that are suf­fer­ing because of cer­tain mal­ices that were done here in the North Atlantic. That’s the dom­i­nant discourse. 

Map showing the Caribbean Sea and surrounding land masses, with Martinique highlighted

I’m going to say that next to this dom­i­nant dis­course there is a demot­ic dis­course, anoth­er dis­course tak­ing place. This demot­ic dis­course that the film­mak­er speaks of is the dis­course that emerges in the Caribbean, one of the places. And it is the dis­course that actu­al­ly looks at the Anthropocene from the per­spec­tive of man­age­r­i­al colonies. Managerial colonies are dif­fer­ent to set­tler colonies, and they’re dif­fer­ent to mis­sion colonies, and they’re dif­fer­ent to the pol­i­tics of indigenousness. 

Settler colonies are the colonies like Australia, the USA, South Africa. These are colonies where per­sons from Europe came and they set­tled these places, and they devel­oped it in a cer­tain way. Managerial colonies are colonies that had few Europeans, but had peo­ple com­ing from oth­er parts of the globe—in the Caribbean it was pri­mar­i­ly peo­ple from sub-Saharan Africa and peo­ple from India and China—coming, and these colonies were man­aged, they were man­aged sole­ly for prof­it. These are dif­fer­ent kinds of ponies. Then of course you have the colonies of the mis­sions. These are colonies that were con­trolled by the church­es. And you have a pol­i­tics of indige­nous­ness which is the pol­i­tics of indige­nous peo­ple fight­ing for their rights. 

The demot­ic dis­course that this film presents is a dis­course of the man­age­r­i­al colonies, and specif­i­cal­ly of the man­age­r­i­al colonies in the Caribbean. These types of colonies do not play the game, or the thinking—this dis­course does not play the game of sep­a­rat­ing peo­ple or sep­a­rat­ing cul­tures. It says you can­not under­stand man­age­r­i­al colonies with­out under­stand­ing the entire plan­et, and plan­e­tary processes. 

We Caribbeans…don't have a genesis story, we don't have a founding myth. Therefore, in order to understand where we came from, we would have to have all the genesis stories, all the founding myths—of the Amerindians, of the Africans, of the Europeans.

So one of the thinkers from Martinique, after Aimé Césaire, is Patrick Chamoiseau. And he says to under­stand Caribbean peo­ple, you have to under­stand that they do not have a myth of gen­e­sis. They have myths of rela­tion. They are relat­ed to the peo­ples in Africa. They’re relat­ed to the peo­ples in Europe. They’re relat­ed to the peo­ples in Asia. They’re relat­ed to the myths of the peo­ple who lived there first, the Amerindians. And all these myths have to be used to under­stand the globe. To under­stand them­selves, and to under­stand how we actu­al­ly arrived in the Anthropocene. So it is not an inter­nal dis­course to the Caribbean, it is a dis­course from the Caribbean that seeks to speak of the world.

So small a segment of the earth’s surface is not easy to take seriously – especially since it lies near the most powerful nation in world history, and has become a favorite place to loaf, bathe, drink and flirt, for Americans and other foreigners. Yet only a couple of centuries ago, the Caribbean islands became the testing ground for European imperialism, modern slave labor, and the first production site for the “proletarian drug foods,” such as sugar, coffee and rum.

One of the things that then emerges—you take Sidney Mintz, a fel­low anthropologist—is he says if you look at the European Industrial Revolution you have to ask your­self what did the work­ers eat? What did they con­sume? Where did the cot­ton come from? And he says the cot­ton came from the plan­ta­tions. The sug­ar, which we eat all these pas­tries, it was pro­duced in the Caribbean. That gave the work­ers the calo­ries to be able to be fur­ther exploit­ed, and to sur­vive. So from this per­spec­tive you can’t under­stand indus­tri­al­iza­tion with­out under­stand­ing that it was glob­al. The fac­to­ries in England, and those in Germany, were con­nect­ed to the plan­ta­tions and the fac­to­ries in the Caribbean. 

The water- and wind-powered factories were enormous mechanical devices for their times, and it took several men to operate even the initial animal-powered mills used by the sugar-making pioneers of Santo Domingo in the early sixteenth century. The large-scale use of the furnaces and vessels was typical. Even steam was adopted very early in the evolution of the sugar industry, before the end of slavery in the case of several Caribbean societies. … These technical features, many tied to careful timing, introduced more than just an aura of industrial modernity into what were operations which predated, in many cases by whole centuries, the Industrial Revolution.

He also says even when you think about the steam engine you have to rec­og­nize that one of the first places where the steam engine was imple­ment­ed was in the Caribbean. We think of the steam engine in rela­tion to England, but we for­get it was imple­ment­ed there first, to actu­al­ly pro­duce these calo­ries and these [indis­tinct]. So the plan­ta­tions were fac­to­ries, accord­ing to him.

When three centuries ago the slaves came to the West Indies, they entered directly into the large-scale agriculture of the sugar plantation, which was a modern system. It further required that the slaves live together in a social relation far closer than any proletariat of the time. The cane when reaped had to be rapidly transported to what was factory production. The product was shipped abroad for sale. Even the cloth the slaves wore and the food they ate was imported. The Negroes, therefore, from the very start lived a life that was in its essence a modern life. That is their history – as far as I have been able to discover, a unique history.

Now, he’s build­ing on the work of Caribbean per­sons that werewrit­ing about this already in the 1940s. One of them is CLR James, who said if you take plan­ta­tion slav­ery you have to rec­og­nize that it was an ear­ly form of glob­al­iza­tion. The cloth­ing that the enslaved wore was pro­duced else­where. The food that they ate was pro­duced else­where. They were already in an extreme­ly glob­al­ized world that was part of their life, so they lived moder­ni­ty ear­li­er than moder­ni­ty hap­pened in oth­er parts of the globe. 

So, the idea’s not to say you have a demot­ic and you have a dom­i­nant, but to say you have to merge them. That’s plan­e­tary. That’s plan­et thinking. 

So what does that mean. It means—and I’m com­ing to the end. It means that you have to under­stand the plan­ta­tions in the Caribbean as unit­ing the field and the fac­to­ry. These were two things. The field and the fac­to­ry were unit­ed in the Caribbean, and those fac­to­ries there were con­nect­ed to fac­to­ries in the North Atlantic, and the prod­ucts that were com­ing and the peo­ple that were com­ing were con­nect­ed to the larg­er globe. 

It also means that you can’t under­stand the major play­ers in Europe if you don’t under­stand that some of them were from the Caribbean. The per­son there in the right cor­ner is Joséphine Bonaparte. She was born in Martinique. She’s the wife of Napoleon. This coun­try here had a king for a while, the broth­er of Bonaparte. His wife was also from Martinique. So what you notice is glob­al cap­i­tal from those plan­ta­tion cre­oles was trans­form­ing the world. And par­tial­ly the cre­oles became part of the roy­al­ty that we know nowa­days in Europe. This is a way of think­ing the globe. 

So, what I would like you to do as you watch this film is to rec­og­nize that the his­to­ry that you are being pre­sent­ed is not the his­to­ry of the Caribbean. It is our unac­knowl­edged his­to­ry. It is the his­to­ry of the plan­et. And per­haps if we start to under­stand this more cor­rect­ly we will under­stand that the plan­ta­tion, slav­ery and plan­ta­tion inden­ture­ship, led to defor­esta­tion. Those boats and those steam engines had to…they need­ed fuel. It led to a deple­tion of the soil. It led to the ash­es com­ing down—the Caribbean expe­ri­enced that already in the 18th cen­tu­ry. All these things hap­pened due to that larg­er colo­nial process. So the Anthropocene is old, and per­haps we have to think of the Anthropocene—as some geo­sci­en­tists do—saying that it actu­al­ly took off around the 1600s and it took off in the Empire. And it affect­ed us all, and nowa­days we have to find a com­mon solu­tion to a com­mon prob­lem. Thank you. 

Rhodes: Thank you very much for that intro­duc­tion. I think that was very infor­ma­tive. Are there any ques­tions from our audience?

[inaudi­ble com­ment from the audience]

Ah. This is some­thing we fore­saw. But we will watch the film, and there will be oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask you ques­tions to Francio after watch­ing it. And I think you will need to see the film to ful­ly grasp the whole sto­ry. But we want­ed to give you an oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask them if there are any right now. Ah, yes. 

Audience 1: I have a very fun­da­men­tal ques­tion. What does demot­ic mean? And what do you mean by it in your con­text, as well. 

Guadaloupe: Demotic means…after Demos, those that are not rul­ing. [crosstalk] That’s what it means.

Audience 1: Ah. Okay. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. 

Guadaloupe: Jargon. Sorry.

Rhodes: Any more ques­tions? No. Okay. Then I think we’ll just have to leave it for after the film. Thank you very much Francio. We’ll speak to you after­wards. And enjoy the film, everyone.

Further Reference

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