Current Issue

Volume 50, Number 1, Spring 2018

Special Issue: The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction

Guest Editors: Stef Craps and Rick Crownshaw

 

Introduction: The Rising Tide of Climate Change FictionStef Craps and Rick Crownshaw

 

Articles

Beauty That Must Die: Station Eleven, Climate Change Fiction, and the Life of FormPieter Vermeulen

While most discussions of climate change fiction tend to focus on genres and objects, this essay foregrounds the importance of the notion of form. Starting from an understanding of the Anthropocene as marked by the entanglement of particular (social, cultural, symbolic) forms of life and (biological) life forms, the essay argues that literature’s “life of form” can productively engage the complexities of those interactions. Indeed, if philosophical discussions of Anthropocene life such as Samuel Scheffler’s Death and the Afterlife and Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene suffer from a confusion of life forms and forms of life, a novel like Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is more canny about their multifarious interactions. Ultimately, and in contrast to most post-catastrophe fiction, Mandel’s novel is less interested in the specter of the end of the human species than in the fundamental contingency of all human forms of life. The essay draws on Eric Santner’s work in political theology and on Station Eleven’s intertextual usage of the work of William Shakespeare and Herman Melville to present an account of the multifarious interactions between life and form that are at stake in climate change fiction.

The Rest Is Silence: Postmodern and Postcolonial Possibilities in Climate Change FictionAdeline Johns-Putra

In this essay, I consider postmodernist tendencies in two recent climate change novels, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (2013) and Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (2014). While I hesitate to claim that these herald a distinct postmodern turn in climate change fiction, I argue that these novels’ postmodernist self-awareness constitutes a promising new direction for fiction in the Anthropocene. Displaying a postcolonial awareness and deploying the postmodernist strategies of metafiction and magical realism, the novels undermine the omniscience of third-person narrators and the reliability of focalizers in order simultaneously to destabilize realist, imperialist, and anthropocentric constructions of the world. Indeed, they not only question the dominance of master-narratives; they question domination per se. That is, in these novels, voice itself comes under suspicion as an anthropocentric fallacy.   

The Hot War: Climate, Security, FictionBen De Bruyn

This paper examines a set of recent novels in which the problem of climate change is explicitly linked to global war and the security state. The next theater of war after or alongside the war on terror, they suggest, may well be an environment grown unpredictable because of human intervention. Drawing on Robert Marzec’s work on “environmentality,” it describes how novels like Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising (2012), Mark de Silva’s Square Wave (2016), and Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013) represent the future, past, and present of a world shaped by an “ecosecurity imaginary.” Additionally, the analysis links these narratives to scenario planning, nuclear dread, and slow violence to suggest, first, that we should expand a limited category like ‘cli-fi’ to include less obvious examples and, second, that we should consider fiction’s complicity with as well as critique of this militarized environmentalism. What is more, the analysis reveals the strong ties between this new, “hot war” and the Cold War, and identifies a shared suspicion of geo-engineering projects among contemporary writers.

Tearing Down the Greenhouse: Visual Ecology, Savvy Critics, and Climate Change in T. C. Boyle’s The TerranautsRiver Ramuglia

Ecocritics frequently grapple with the problem of containment in their efforts to encapsulate just precisely what “climate change” signifies. Timothy Morton’s concept of the “hyperobject,” for example, is now critical shorthand for these discursive magnitudes. The Terranauts, T. C. Boyle’s fictional engagement with the real-world events surrounding the creation of Biosphere 2, is fixated with the question of containment on spatial, intellectual, ecological, and textual levels. This article argues that The Terranauts uses the spectacular figure containment, Biosphere 2, as an apparatus to reveal the non-material components of ecological systems, more specifically the elements of visual symbolic exchange. These exchanges are imbricated in a reflexive and ironic visual ecology that helps to capture and corrects a voyeuristic reading practice destructive to imagining global environmental problems. It also asserts that comic and satiric forms of fictional containment of climate change hold value in their ability to resist simulative forms of eco-politics.

From the Grotesque to Nuclear-Age Precedents: The Modes and Meanings of Cli-fi HumorCourtney Traub

In a New York Times review of MaddAddam, the final instalment in Margaret Atwood’s eco-apocalyptic trilogy, Andrew Sean Greer notes “[w]hat a joy it is to see…Atwood taking such delicious pleasure in the end of the world.” If critics such as Timothy Morton and Michael Branch have lamented the dominance of elegiac, melancholic rhetoric in ecological writing and (in the case of Branch) pleaded for more humor in both literary theory and practice, this article unearths how humor operates on crucial rhetorical and narrative levels in the climate fiction of Atwood and Ian McEwan. It analyzes how several comic modes—from satirical dark humor to slapstick—draw attention to ethical and epistemological quandaries raised by climate change and ecological risk in distinctive ways that merit further study. Drawing historical and generic comparisons to satirical modes prevalent in twentieth-century science fiction and film, and especially to the dark humor made emblematic by Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove, the article decrypts how Atwood’s MaddAddam and McEwan’s Solar offer incongruously funny representations of ecocatastrophe that—like Kubrick’s famed nuclear-age spoof—serve both to distract from and snap us out of the paralysis of fear, encouraging a self-reflexive mode of reading. In Solar, absurd and slapstick humor marks the rise of an egotistical, Nobel Prize-winning scientist who steals a colleague’s work to develop a technology capable of averting catastrophic warming. In the end, this invites a pragmatic question framed in a light-hearted manner: who cares how the climate crisis is solved, and whether efforts are intellectually honest or affectively in earnest, as long as solutions are found? Meanwhile, Atwood’s novel proves more traditional in its turn to familiar sci-fi conventions of technological satire and dark humor to imagine a post-human future following mutually intertwined eco and techno-catastrophes. In her work, critiques of biotechnology, late-market capitalism, and its irreversible ecological consequences are framed in bitingly comic terms; but this does not prevent the trilogy from retaining a sense of hope and ethical urgency.

The Novel after Nature, Nature after the Novel: Richard Jefferies’s Anthropocene RomanceJesse Oak Taylor

The history of the novel must be re-thought in light of the emergence of the Anthropocene. The period associated with the “rise of the novel” in the eighteenth and nineteenth century dovetails with the emergence of industrial capitalism, the shift to fossil fuels, and European imperialism, all of which are now recognized as key elements in the scaling-up of human activity to planetary scale. It also aligns with the emergence of modern geology and the stratigraphic method currently being used to date the Anthropocene as a formal epoch on the geologic time scale (GTS). Thus, if the Anthropocene presents the work of the novel “after nature” it also represents the state of nature “after” the novel. This convergence suggests that the rise of the novel may also mark the birth of the Anthropocene. It also raises troubling questions about whether such coincidence may in fact reveal complicity. To what degree is the novel itself bound up in the forces responsible for drawing the Holocene to a close? What does it mean to re-visit the history of the novel as an “end-Holocene” genre, and what would that designation suggest about the genre’s viability in the epoch to come? This article takes up these questions through a reading of Richard Jefferies’s After London, or Wild England (1885) as a formative instance of “cli fi” that explicitly disavows the designation of “novel” in favor of “romance.” In the process, it argues for a more historically expansive conception of cli fi, and points to potential intersections between ecocriticism, textual studies, and book history.

Contemporary Fiction vs. the Challenge of Imagining the Timescale of Climate ChangeMahlu Mertens and Stef Craps

Fiction writers who try to do justice to the vast temporal and spatial scales and the enormous complexity of climate change are faced with the problem that the phenomenon exceeds human perception and that it is not dramatic in the traditional sense. In this article we explore the formal challenges that arise when fiction takes on the temporality of climate change by examining three very different novels that seek to capture the geological timescale. We analyze Richard McGuire’s time-bending graphic novel Here (2014), Dale Pendell’s fictional future history The Great Bay (2010), and Jeanette Winterson’s cautionary science-fiction tale The Stone Gods (2007) through the lens of Barbara Adam’s concept of the timescape, Rob Nixon’s idea of slow violence, and Timothy Clark’s notion of destructive doubles to see what kinds of literary innovations and translations the timescale of climate change has provoked. In doing so, we ponder Clark’s question, posed in his recent book Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept (2015), whether humans are constitutionally incapable of imagining the Anthropocene—the new geological epoch defined by the action of humans of which climate change is the most salient manifestation—or whether authors can adequately depict and convey it by disrupting conventional modes of representation. We conclude that while each of the three novels ultimately falls short in this regard, collectively they do chart possible pathways for successful literary treatment of the most pressing ecological threat of our time.

 

Interview

Cli-fi, Petroculture, and the Environmental Humanities: An Interview with Stephanie LeMenagerRiver Ramuglia

 

Contributors

Ben De Bruyn is associate professor in comparative literature at Maastricht University, the Netherlands. He is the author of Wolfgang Iser. A Companion (De Gruyter, 2012) and co-editor of Literature Now (Edinburgh UP, 2016), and has published several articles on posthumanism and climate change in journals including CritiqueTextual Practice, and Oxford Literary Review. He is currently finishing a book manuscript provisionally entitled The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape.​

Stef Craps is an associate professor of English literature at Ghent University, Belgium, where he directs the Cultural Memory Studies Initiative. His research interests range across memory and trauma studies, postcolonial studies, and the environmental humanities. His latest books are Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) and the co-edited volume Memory Unbound: Tracing the Dynamics of Memory Studies (Berghahn, 2017).

Rick Crownshaw teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of The Afterlife of Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Literature and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan 2010), as well as numerous articles on American literature, memory studies, and trauma studies. He is the editor of Transcultural Memory (Routledge 2014), and co-editor of The Future of Memory (Berghahn 2010, 2013). He is currently finishing a monograph, Remembering the Anthropocene in Contemporary American Fiction. His next project is tentatively titled Filming the Anthropocene.

Adeline Johns-Putra is reader in English literature at the University of Surrey and was chair of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, UK and Ireland, from 2011 to 2015. Her books include The History of the Epic (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006) and Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel (Cambridge UP, forthcoming). Her essays on climate change and literature have appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, ISLE, and English Studies.   

Mahlu Mertens is a theatre director and literary scholar. Currently she is working as a PhD student at Ghent University on a project that focuses on atypical climate change fiction. Her research interests are the environmental humanities in general, and climate change fiction, eco graphic novels, and ecodrama in particular.

River Ramuglia, originally from Anchorage, Alaska, is a PhD candidate at Ghent University. He holds a BA from the University of Oregon and an MA from King’s College London. He currently works with Professor Stef Craps on the project “Imagining Climate Change: Fiction, Memory, and the Anthropocene” and studies the metaphor, symbol, and theme of “shelter” in contemporary climate change fiction and ecocriticism. 

Jesse Oak Taylor is associate professor of English at the University of Washington. He is the author of The Sky of Our Manufacture: The London Fog in British Fiction From Dickens to Woolf (2016), and co-editor (with Tobias Menely) of Anthropocene Reading: Literary History in Geologic Times (2017). 

Courtney Traub is an independent scholar in American literature and cultural history who is currently writing a monograph entitled Contemporary American Crisis Writing: Romantic and Countercultural Legacies. The book examines fiction that grapples with the reigning environmental and technological crises of our time. Dr. Traub holds a PhD from the University of Oxford. Her article on the resurgence of Romantic sublime conventions in climate-change narratives is included in “Cli-Fi in American Studies: A Research Bibliography,” compiled in 2017 by Susanne Leikam and Julia Leyda.

Pieter Vermeulen is an assistant professor of American and comparative literature at the University of Leuven, Belgium. He is the author of Romanticism After the Holocaust (2010) and Contemporary Literature and the End of the Novel: Creature, Affect, Form (2015), and a co-editor of, most recently, Institutions of World Literature: Writing, Translation, Markets (2015) and Memory Unbound: Tracing the Dynamics of Memory Studies (2017).

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