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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Elizabeth Johnson

Johnson, Elizabeth R. Reconsidering Mimesis: Freedom and Acquiescence in the Anthropocene. South Atlantic Quarterly. 2016;115:267-289.

Author(s) from Durham


In 1993 Michael Taussig's Mimesis and Alterity revitalized the power of the mimetic faculty to craft a vision of nature that was neither the alienated subject of modern science nor the passively malleable medium of late twentieth-century social constructivism. Taussig drew explicitly on a tradition of earlier twentieth-century scholarship—Walter Benjamin, Roger Caillois, and Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno—that located in the mimetic faculty a way out of a techno-fetishized social milieu. This essay explores how mimesis has once again been endowed with revolutionary potential in the contemporary moment through the growing field of biomimicry. I show how mimesis promises a way toward a future free from human hubris and ecological catastrophe—and a way out of the conditions that have created the Anthropocene. I explore how this works in biomimetics, with a detailed look at one of the most celebrated examples of the biomimetic paradigm: the gecko's foot. But, I ultimately suggest that what has been so seductive about mimesis throughout history is that it offers a “way out” of political confrontation. In doing so, I argue mimesis too easily serves as a double mirror—rather than transform production, nonhuman life at the level of biology becomes a force for production.