Hounded out of time: Black Shuck’s Lesson in the Anthropocene

09 Feb 2018

Drawing in nightmares, shadows and loneliness, this article follows a rarely-trodden and difficult path across the shifting geology of Norfolk; a track marked by fleeting glimpses and horrible signs of the deadly consequences of deep time and human choice. The subject of fascination for folklorists, cryptozoologists and the general public alike; in East Anglia stories abound of a huge, devilish hound, with saucer-shaped eyes and followed by the demonic stench of sulphur; Black Shuck. Pursued by - rather than pursuing - footprints in the mud, whispered stories from isolated places, and the mysteriously mutilated corpses of deer, this ethnographic description considers the significance of encounters with this phantasm for recent debates surrounding the proper understanding of the beginning of the Anthropocene, and the implications of this for our sense time and responsibility. In this era of unprecedented human power over the natural world, the Shuck - the mere sight of whom brings death - still haunts us; his chthonic presence reminding us of the inexorable, yet unpredictable power of death. By attending the monstrous, spectral ambiguity of the Shuck, and his ability to reformulate the landscape of East Anglia as a social space, this article explores the how coeval quality of the longue durée of deep time, and the haunting rupture entailed by the prospect of our own mortality, can enchant, rather than blunt, our sense of human responsibility in the Anthropocene.