Sarah Allen’s KairoticInspiration offers the helping hand we all need if we are going to develop ‘the habits of wonder’ required to confront the climate-change-precipitated Sixth Extinction. Allen does this by reframing the project of rhetoric to include active efforts to engage with the nonhuman world and its many inhabitants. In the process, she introduces the prospect of ‘becoming-with’ and ‘becoming in contradiction’ as ways to slip the confines of rigid binary thinking and initiate a transformation that allows us to connect with and be changed by a nonanthropocentric vision of the world. If you’re seeking inspiration in dark times, delivered by a serious thinker who writes beautifully, you’ll find that and more in this remarkable work.
On the precipice of the Sixth Extinction, we face a frightening fate—ongoing ecological crises that may result in not only the extinction of a million species within decades but another mass extinction event like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. In Kairotic Inspiration: Imagining the Future in the Sixth Extinction, Sarah Allen suggests that humans face this future, whatever it brings, by attending to the ways in which all beings are caught in the entangled processes of becoming. But change is often painful and requires inspiration. Allen explores a theory that shifts the concept of inspiration away from the unique genius of the individual and instead situates it within conceptual, human and nonhuman animal relations that can disrupt the state of being. To expand the understanding of change beyond the polarized binary that defines difference, the author builds on Nietzsche’s conceptualization of the Dionysian, which explains how the self is unmade through immersive experiences. This unmaking creates room for a different experience of becoming, one which Donna Haraway calls “becoming-with” and “producing-with.” In the end, Allen demonstrates how deepening kairotic connections can transform us as beings, thrusting us further into the processes of becoming and embracing the change that is possible in this living, changing, endangered world.
Throughout my career as a writing teacher, I have told my students that one of my primary objectives is to make them uncomfortable. I explain that when one is comfortable with something, one generally does not change it. However, when uncomfortable, we are likely to change, to adjust. Sarah Allen’s Kairotic Inspiration: Imagining the Future in the Sixth Extinction asks us—writing teachers—to be uncomfortable with one of our fundamental pedagogical focuses: argumentation. She asks us to look to ecological approaches to critically question the ramifications of emphasizing argumentation in writing classes. Ultimately, she asks us to do something uncomfortable: she asks us to change. In doing so, Kairotic Inspiration not only expands writing studies’ ecological turn but in doing so may provoke one of the most relevant (and needed) changes in how we think about teaching writing.
Sarah Allen is associate professor in the English Department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where she serves as a specialist in rhetoric and composition and as the director of the Composition and Rhetoric, First-Year Writing, and Mentoring Programs. Allen is the author of Beyond Argument: Essaying as a Practice of (Ex)Change.