Hugh Raffles, "The Book of Unconformities: Speculations on Lost Time" (Pantheon Books, 2020)


At once an examination of geology, a biography of monuments, and a meditation on the connection between personal loss and massive loss, Hugh Raffles’ The Book of Unconformities: Speculations on Lost Time (Pantheon Books, 2020) is a truly beguiling book. Moving through Manhattan marble, Norwegian “blubberstone”, extra-terrestrial meteorites, and several other geological forms, Raffles uses the geological concept of “unconformity” to examine those historical moments where time seems to have disappeared. By sitting patiently with the impossibility of resolving the tensions between deep time and human time, The Book of Unconformities skips across epochs without losing sight of the lives people build around minerals.

In this episode, I stumble my way through this dense, dumbfounding work, asking Professor Raffles about the different valences of deep time, how to talk about recurring loss, and what stones do to the anthropological imagination.

Hugh Raffles is Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research and the Director of the Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography and Social Thought. His previous books include In Amazonia (Princeton University Press, 2002) and Insectopedia (Vintage, 2011).

Lachlan Summers is a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology at UC Santa Cruz and has no previous books. He lives in Mexico City, and researches the city’s repeating earthquakes. He is a contributing editor at Cultural Anthropology, a member of the Emergent Futures CoLab, and can be found on Twitter.

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