Drawing the Monsoon into Eco-critical Conversations

Lindsay Bremner

This content is an excerpt of Monsoon as Method edited by Lindsay Bremner, published by Actar Publishers.

The most powerful stories throughout history have been the ones told with pictures … we stand little chance of telling a new story if we stick to the old illustrations.[1]

It might seem strange to begin a reflection on drawing the monsoon with a quote from an economics manifesto, but bear with me. The word ‘economics’ was coined by the Ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon by combining oikos, meaning household, with nomos, meaning rules or norms.[2] Thus conceptualised as the art of household management, modern economics framed the human household as separate from nature, which was externalised as resource or sink. This idea was graphically represented by the eighteenth-century French economist François Quesnay in his Tableau économique (1758), which effectively reduced the economy to the circulation of money between the agricultural classes, artisans and proprietors balanced precariously on a base line labelled ‘soil’.[3] But soil, as Tim Ingold reminds us, “far from being uniform, homogenous, and pre-pared … is variegated, composite, and undergoes continuous generation.”[4] It is not a docile externality to economic circulation, but intimately entangled within it. If, on the other hand, one were to base one’s economic imaginary on oikeios topos, meaning the relationships between a plant species and its environment (another phrase coined in Ancient Greece, this time by philosopher-botanist Theophrastus), a different economy becomes conceivable. Oikeios topos, suggests Jason Moore, imagines an economy based not on society plus nature, but rather of society in nature: in other words, the “messily bundled, interpenetrating, and interdependent relations between human and extra-human natures”.[5]

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[1] K. Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, London, Random House, 2017, p. 12.
[2] Raworth, Doughnut Economics, p. 4.
[3] J.S. Lewinski, ‘Scheme of Quesnay’s Tableau Économique’, The Founders of Political Economy, London, P.S. King, 1922, p. 52, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bb/Scheme_of_Quesnay%27s_Tableau_Economique%2C_ 1921.jpg (accessed 28 July 2020).
[4] T. Ingold, ‘Footprints through the weather-world: Walking, breathing, knowing’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, (N.S.), 2010, p. S121.
[5] J. Moore, ‘From Object to Oikeios: Environment-Making in the Capitalist World-Ecology,’ unpublished paper, 2013, p. 2, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/citations;jsessionid=B780E71CDD30E6E3D73B720F262A7955?doi= (accessed 28 July 2020).
[6] ‘Wetness: Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha interviewed by Sarah Bass, Charlotte Birch and Georgia Trower,’ in L. Bremner (ed.), Monsoon [+ other] Waters, London, Monsoon Assemblages, 2019, pp. 104, 114.
[7] Ingold, ‘Footprints through the weather-world’, p. S121.
[8] Wetness, p. 119.
[9] H. Sarkis and R.S. Barrio with G. Kozlowski, ‘Architecture and the World Scale,’ in H. Sarkis and R.S. Barrio with G. Kozlowski (eds.), The World as an Architectural Project, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2019, p. 15.
[10] R. Ghosn and E.H. Jazairy, Design Earth, Geostories: Another Architecture for the Environment, Barcelona, Actar, 2018, p. 22.
[11] I. Rogoff, Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture, London, Routledge, 2000, p. 95.
[12] This includes Carl Steinitz’s 1967 Delmarva studio at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and I.L. McHarg, Design with Nature, New York, Doubleday/Natural History Press, 1969.
[13] J. Desimini and C. Waldheim, Cartographic Grounds: Projecting the Landscape Imaginary, New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2016, p. 17; What is GIS? esri, no date, no page, https://www.esri.com/en-us/what-is-gis/history-of-gis (accessed 30 July 2020). Subsequently, in the work of James Corner, mapping was freed from its role as a tool of topographic truth-telling and became an instrument of critique and speculation. See J. Corner, ‘The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention’, in D. Cosgrove (ed.), Mappings, London, Reaktion, 1999, pp. 213-252.
[14] M. Mostafavi, ‘The Cartographic Imagination’, in Desimini and Waldheim, Cartographic Grounds, p. 6.
[15] J.R. Akerman, The Imperial Map: Cartography and the Mastery of Empire, Chicago IL, University of Chicago Press, 2009, p. 1.
[16] Mostafavi, Foreword, p. 7.
[17] E. Halley, ‘An Historical Account of the Trade Winds, and Monsoons, Observable in the Seas between and near the Tropicks, with an Attempt to Assign the Physical Cause of the Said Winds’, Phil. Trans, R. Soc., vol. 16, no. 183, 1687, p. 155. in B. Cullen and C.L. Geros, ‘Constructing the monsoon: Colonial meteorology and cartography, 1844–1944’, History of Meteorology, forthcoming, vol. 9, 2020, p. 4.
[18] Cullen and Geros, Constructing the monsoon, p. 7.
[19] Cullen and Geros, Constructing the monsoon, p. 9.
[20] Cullen and Geros, Constructing the monsoon, pp. 10-11.
[21] M. Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World, London, Verso, 2000.
[22] Cullen and Geros, Constructing the monsoon, p. 16.
[23] Cullen and Geros, Constructing the monsoon, p. 18.
[24] P.N. Edwards, A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Date, and the Politics of Global Warming, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2010, p. 219. See also L. Kurgan, Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology & Politics, New York, Zone Books, 2013, p. 12.
[25] J. Hayes, ‘The World Weather Watch Today’, World Meteorological Organization Bulletin, vol. 57, no. 1, 2008, no page, https://public.wmo.int/en/bulletin/world-weather-watch-today (accessed 31 July 2020).
[26] Edwards, A Vast Machine, p. 230.
[27] Edwards, A Vast Machine, pp. 276-277.
[28] Edwards, A Vast Machine, p. 283.
[29] Randerson, Weather as Medium, p. xxxiv.
[30] Edwards, A Vast Machine, p. 292 and R. Ghosn and E.H. Jazairy, ‘Gaia Global Circus: A Climate Tragicomedy’, in J. Graham (ed.), Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary, New York, Columbia Books on Architecture and the City with Lars Muller, 2016, p. 53.
[31] Edwards, A Vast Machine, p. 344.
[32] Edwards, A Vast Machine, p. 347.
[33] See Randerson, Weather as Medium, p. xv.
[34] We are indebted to Roberto Bottazzi for teaching techniques of mapping data with Grasshopper in his Digital Representation class at the University of Westminster, where our students learned them.
[35] M. Dada, ‘Transmodern Narratives’, Topological Atlas, 24 October 2019, no page, https://topologicalatlas.net/blog/transmodern-narratives (accessed 31 July, 2020).
[36] L. Bremner, ‘Monsoon Assemblings’, in T. Campos and B. Cincik (eds.), Postcards from the Anthropocene, forthcoming. Desimini and Waldheim, Cartographic Grounds, p. 11.
[37] Randerson, Weather as Medium, p. xxi.
[38] Rogoff, Terra Infirma, p. 10.
[39] Rogoff, Terra Infirma, p. 98.
[40] Randerson, Weather as Medium, p. xxxiv.
[41] Ghosn and Jazairy, Geostories, p. 19. This took up on Bruno Latour’s call to move beyond seeing the earth as a matter of fact to seeing it as a matter of concern. B. Latour, ‘Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,’ Critical Enquiry, no. 30, 2004, pp. 225-248.
[42] S. Jasanoff, ‘A New Climate for Society’, Theory Culture and Society, vol. 27, no. 2-3, 2010, p. 235.
[43] Randerson, Weather as Medium, p. xvi.
[44] Randerson, Weather as Medium, p. xvi. See too I. Stengers on Gaia, in In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarians, trans. A. Goffey, Open Humanities Press, 2015, p. 53, http://openhumanitiespress.org/books/download/Stengers_2015_In-Catastrophic-Times.pdf (accessed 04 August 2020).