Devin M. Garofalo Responds

David Coombs articulates beautifully the central premise of The Age of Analogy—and, more broadly, the transformative possibility of literary and aesthetic production—as follows: “The figurative language of fiction—analogy in particular here—makes the past present by suspending the division between what we know and how we know.” His attention to analogical “intimacy” underscores how figuration produces substantive knowledge “in situations where the object of investigation [i]s otherwise inaccessible.” Thus, analogy enables humankind “to observe the Earth’s planetary accretion or the longue durée of evolutionary change that preceded humans.” But I’m still wondering about the unsettled (and at times unsettling) relationship between analogy and the “us” of the human species. Analogy makes possible the thinking of species and, by extension, what Dipesh Chakrabarty has called “species thinking.”[1] The stakes of such thinking are higher now than perhaps ever before. On the one hand, species thinking enables humankind to recognize and grapple with the history and legacies of anthropogenic environmental destruction. On the other hand, it flattens distinctions that are central to that history—the extent to which some humans are more responsible than others for the present crisis, for instance, or the uneven distribution of its consequences and the inequities they proliferate. And by positing the human species as a unified and often privileged locus of agency, species thinking risks accepting as its basic premise the very kind of thinking that got “us” into trouble in the first place.

If the challenge of climate change is that it “requires us to bring together intellectual formations that are somewhat in tension with each other” without erasing the specificities and differences in which that “tension” originates, as Chakrabarty argues, the human “us” makes visible how analogy risks obstructing this task even as it also facilitates it (213). This is all to say that I am curious about the stakes of analogical thinking in our contemporary moment—about the intimacies it makes possible and their consequences, both transformative and destructive. Griffiths’ chapter on George Eliot’s disanalogies strikes me as especially useful for thinking through precisely these questions. Such “negative analogies” figure “dissimilarity” and “error as an avenue to common understanding,” reminding us that intimacy emerges not only from likeness but also—and perhaps most crucially—in the moments when “what is not common trumps what is” (197).

[1] Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35.2 (2009): 213.

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