This seminar course invites students to reckon with the political, ethical and aesthetic challenges of narrating environmental crises. As energy shocks, climate disasters, and resource struggles intensify, certain writers are developing a strategic approach to the written word. These writers do not focus on ‘the literary’ as such, but rather work to tell particular environmental stories to broad audiences. In doing so, they are forging new connections between literary expression, civic engagement, and prevailing political regimes.
Environmental storytelling seeks to involve readers emotionally and intellectually in narratives about our mutating world – rather than simply to pelt them with depressing facts about it. In doing so, it seeks to create informed and engaged publics, fostering a sense of collectivity and possibility. An environmental storyteller might, for example, imbue a dry legalistic procedure with dramatic urgency by setting it into a narrative web, sparking a reader’s political concern. Or they might use storytelling to open up technical domains of knowledge familiar to trained specialists, but inaccessible to most.
This course begins with an introduction to recent critical discussions on literature and the Anthropocene. It then moves through a range of experimental literary forms and genres – from eco-elegy, to science fiction, to activist nonfiction – to provide students with a broad, transnational grounding in contemporary literary responses to environmental politics.
Amitav Ghosh, Excerpts from ‘Stories’, in The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (London: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
Delia Falconer, ‘How It Feels Now (After “Hysterical Realism”)’, in Signs and Wonders: Dispatches from a Time of Beauty and Loss (London: Scribner, 2021).
Robert Macfarlane, ‘Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet forever’, The Guardian, April 1 2016.
Jamie Lorimer, ‘The Anthropo-scene – A guide for the perplexed’, Social Studies of Science 2017, Vol. 47 (1), 117–142.
2. Extinction Elegies
Elizabeth Rush, ‘Connecting the Dots’, in Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2018).
J.A. Baker, ‘December 22nd’, in The Peregrine (London: William Collins, 2017; 1967).
Alexis Wright, ‘We all smell the smoke, we all feel the heat. This environmental catastrophe is global’, The Guardian, 17 May 2019.
Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr, #Misanthropocene 24 Theses (Oakland: Commune Editions, 2014).
Margaret Ronda, ‘Mourning and Melancholia at the End of Nature’, in Ronda, Remainders: American Poetry at Nature’s End (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018).
Bathsheba Demuth, ‘Turn and live with animals’, Aeon, 9 October 2019.
4. Sacrifice zones
Macfarlane, excerpt from ‘The Hiding Place’ in Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2019).
Rob Nixon, ‘Introduction’, in Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (London: Harvard University Press, 2011).
Rebecca Altman, ‘American petro-topia’, Aeon, 11 March 2015.
Kerri Arsenault, ‘Growing Up in Maine’s “Cancer Valley”’, Literary Hub, 12 April 2017.
5. Science fiction and ecological crisis: ‘the other side of the threshold’
Margaret Atwood, ‘Margaret Atwood: the road to Ustopia’, The Guardian, 14 October 2011
Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘Introduction’, in Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (London: Orion, 2018; 1969).
Excerpt from Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2019; 1993).
Excerpt from Nixon, ‘Unimagined Communities’, in Nixon, Slow Violence.
6. Legacies of Silent Spring
Excerpts from Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (London: Penguin, 2000; 1962).
Lauret Savoy, ‘Alien Land Ethic’, in Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2015).
Excerpt from Jedediah Purdy, This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2019).
M. Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline S. Palmer, ‘Silent Spring and Science Fiction: An Essay in the History and Rhetoric of Narrative’, in And No Birds Sing: Rhetorical Analyses of Silent Spring, ed. by Craig Waddell (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000).
David Farrier, ‘Hand in Glove’, Orion, 10 September 2020.
Max Liboiron, ‘Anti-Colonial Science and the Ubiquity of Plastics’, FrankNews, 9 January 2019.
Altman, ‘Time Bombing the Future’, Aeon (2 January 2019).
8. Climate Signs
Excerpts from Kathleen Jamie, ‘The Links of Noltland’, in Jamie, Surfacing (London: Sort Of Books, 2019).
Excerpts from Daisy Hildyard, Emergency (London: Fitzcarraldo, 2022).
Emily Raboteau, ‘Climate Signs’, The New York Review, 1 February 2019.
9. Energy Transitions
Excerpt from James Marriott and Terry Macalister, Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation (London: Pluto Press, 2021).
Excerpt from Ben Smith, Doggerland (London: 4th Estate, 2019).
Bill McKibben, ‘In A World On Fire, Stop Burning Things’, The New Yorker, 18 March 2022.