The open future in peril: the Anthropocene and the political agent of humanistically oriented historiography

Determinism has long been a bugbear of humanistically oriented historiography. The opposition is political and typically expressed in liberal-democratic terms characterised by commitments to open time and the open future. Among its proponents, the Anthropocene has been regarded as a useful political concept that raises public consciousness of environmental problems and sets the stage for political action. The problem of determinism prevents the Anthropocene from being such a motivating force. Having been declared from a future millions of years from now, it sets the future in stone, telling humanity where it has ended up while it is still en route. Its temporal structure is that of a completed literary artefact. The characters play out a plot that is the finished creation of an omnipotent and omniscient author. As certain authors have sought to free their characters from the structure of narrative, so there is a need to consider the dynamics of human agency in the narrative structure of the Anthropocene. The purposeful and self-determining subject of humanistically oriented historiography remains a political agent who deliberates upon alternative courses of action.