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Avenging Nature: The Role of Nature in Modern and Contemporary Art and Literature
 9781793621443, 9781793621450, 1793621454

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Avenging Nature

Ecocritical Theory and Practice Series Editor: Douglas A. Vakoch, METI Advisory Board Sinan Akilli, Cappadocia University, Turkey; Bruce Allen, Seisen University, Japan; Zélia Bora, Federal University of Paraíba, Brazil; Izabel Brandão, Federal University of Alagoas, Brazil; Byron Caminero-Santangelo, University of Kansas, USA; Chia-ju Chang, Brooklyn College, The City College of New York, USA; H. Louise Davis, Miami University, USA; Simão Farias Almeida, Federal University of Roraima, Brazil; George Handley, Brigham Young University, USA; Steven Hartman, Mälardalen University, Sweden; Isabel Hoving, Leiden University, The Netherlands; Idom Thomas Inyabri, University of Calabar, Nigeria; Serenella Iovino, University of Turin, Italy; Daniela Kato, Kyoto Institute of Technology, Japan; Petr Kopecký, University of Ostrava, Czech Republic; Julia Kuznetski, Tallinn University, Estonia; Bei Liu, Shandong Normal University, People’s Republic of China; Serpil Oppermann, Cappadocia University, Turkey; John Ryan, University of New England, Australia; Christian Schmitt-Kilb, University of Rostock, Germany; Joshua Schuster, Western University, Canada; Heike Schwarz, University of Augsburg, Germany; Murali Sivaramakrishnan, Pondicherry University, India; Scott Slovic, University of Idaho, USA; Heather Sullivan, Trinity University, USA; David Taylor, Stony Brook University, USA; J. Etienne Terblanche, North-West University, South Africa; Cheng Xiangzhan, Shandong University, China; Hubert Zapf, University of Augsburg, Germany Ecocritical Theory and Practice highlights innovative scholarship at the interface of literary/cultural studies and the environment, seeking to foster an ongoing dialogue between academics and environmental activists. Recent Titles Avenging Nature: The Role of Nature in Modern and Contemporary Art and Literature, edited by Eduardo Valls Oyarzun, Rebeca Gualberto Valverde, Noelia Malla García, María Colom Jiménez, Rebeca Cordero Sánchez Migrant Ecologies: Zheng Xiaoqiong's Women Migrant Workers, by Zhou Xiaojing Climate Consciousness and Environmental Activism in Composition: Writing to Save the World, edited by Joseph R. Lease Rethinking Nathaniel Hawthorne and Nature: Ecocriticism and the Tangled Landscape of American Romance, by Steven Petersheim Ecocritical Concerns and the Australian Continent, edited by Beate Neumeier and Helen Tiffin The Poetics and Politics of Gardening in Hard Times, edited by Naomi Milthorpe Masculinity and Place in American Literature since 1950, by Vidya Ravi The Way the Earth Writes: How the Great East Japan Earthquake Intervened in Conventional Literary Practice and Produced the Post 3.11 Novels, by Koichi Haga

Avenging Nature The Role of Nature in Modern and Contemporary Art and Literature Edited by Eduardo Valls Oyarzun, Rebeca Gualberto Valverde, Noelia Malla García, María Colom Jiménez, and Rebeca Cordero Sánchez

LEXINGTON BOOKS Lanham • Boulder • New York • London

Published by Lexington Books An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 www.rowman.com 6 Tinworth Street, London SE11 5AL, United Kingdom Copyright © 2020 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Valls Oyarzun, Eduardo, editor. Title: Avenging nature : the role of nature in modern and contemporary art and literature / edited by Eduardo Valls Oyarzun, [and four others]. Description: Lanham : Lexington Books, 2020. | Series: Ecocritical theory and practice | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Summary: "Avenging Nature explores how nature strikes back against human domination. International experts examine, from a multipdisciplinary perspective, the insubordinate representations of nature in modern and contemporary art and literature, and advocate for the insurgence of nature within and outside the realm of culture"-- Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2020012264 (print) | LCCN 2020012265 (ebook) | ISBN 9781793621443 (cloth) | ISBN 9781793621450 (epub) Subjects: LCSH: Ecocriticism. | Literature, Modern--History and criticism--Theory, etc. | Nature in literature. | Dystopias in literature. | Nature in motion pictures. | Dystopian films--History and criticism. Classification: LCC PN98.E36 A94 2020 (print) | LCC PN98.E36 (ebook) | DDC 809/.9336--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020012264 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020012265

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Introduction Eduardo Valls Oyarzun


Part I: Toward a New Ecocritical Ethics 1 Bringing Culture Back to Nature: A Biosemiotic Reading of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Anastasia Cardone 2 “Have You Seen the Snow Leopard?”: Animal Commodity Resistance in Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard Frank Izaguirre 3 “With One Arm I Supported Her: The Other Arm Was the Executioner’s”: An Ecofeminist Reading of Anna Kavan’s Ice Laura de la Parra 4 “We Were Neither What We Had Been nor What We Would Become”: Frankensteinian Science and Liminal States in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation Jessica Roberts 5 Santiago Rusiñol’s Abandoned Gardens: Between the Poetics of Ruin and the Defense of a Lost Identity Laura Sanz García Part II: Empowering Nature 6 Welcoming Cosmos: A Comparative Study of Narrative, Nature, and Cosmopolitanism in The Wall and Pond Hande Gurses v









7 A Few Sockeyes and Dying Embers in What Is Left of the Forest: Settler Culture and Changing Views of Nature in Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s Latest Novels Pedro Miguel Carmona 8 The Last Epigram: Christian Bök’s Xenotext Ryan Winet 9 A Poetic Correspondence on Ecology and the More–than–Human World: Allan Cooper and Harry Thurston’s The Deer Yard Leonor M. Martínez Serrano 10 Wonders and Threats of Symbiotic Relationships in the Anthropocene: Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy Patrycja Austin Part III: The Age of Dystopia 11 Demonizing Nature: Ecocriticism and Popular Fantasy Peter Melville 12 Accepting the X: Uncanny Encounters with Nature and the Wilderness in Jeff Vandermeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy Carmen M. Méndez García 13 Ecocritical Archaeologies of Global Ecocide in Twentieth-FirstCentury Post-Apocalyptic Films Mónica Martí 14 Biohazard, Eco-Terror, and the Rise of Posthuman Dystopia: Re(b)ordering Space to Promote Environmental Ethics in Zal Batmanglij’s The East and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road Paula Barba Guerrero 15 Another Inconvenient Truth: Hollywood, the Myth of Green Capitalism Víctor Junco 16 De-Evolution, Dystopia, and Apocalypse in American Postmodern Speculative Fiction Javier Martín Párraga

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About the Editors


About the Contributors


Introduction Eduardo Valls Oyarzun

“Nature, thou art my goddess.” Edmund’s bold assertion in King Lear could easily inspire and, at the same time, challenge most of the contents the present volume, Avenging Nature, comprises. 1 Whether as an “other” or as a constituent part of whatever authors conceive human nature is, the close-knit relationship between the human subject and Nature pervades western culture and civilization. Nature has been divined as a nurturing mother and a harsh Goddess, as the subject and object of creation, as an authority to be worshipped or to be rebelled against, as a balanced and harmonic phenomenon or as a truly chaotic force of destruction, as friend and foe, as creation or destruction. There is Nature in “human nature,” but there is very little humanity, if at all, in the way culture has coded Nature as an “other,” and outsider with almost no entity or voice to take heed of. Even a metaphor like the one you have just read somewhat denies Nature the authority it calls for. In order to overcome this situation, the present volume attempts to check upon the means and ways Nature can truly (re)gain stage-center in presentday critical discourse. At the dawn of “ecocriticism” as a discipline of study within the Humanities, Glotfelty, and Fromm (1996), in the first general reader in the matter, defined it as the critical practice that examines the relationship between literary and cultural studies and the natural world. In general terms, during the past two decades, ecocriticism has denounced the anthropocentric and instrumental appropriation of nature that has for so long legitimized human exploitation of the nonhuman world. Exposing the logic of domination that articulates the very power relationships that both connect and separate human culture and natural life, recent trends in ecocriticism have raised awareness of the “otherisation” of Nature (Huggan and Tiffin 2015), pointing out the need of assessing insurgent discourses that—converging with counter-dis1



courses of race, gender or class—realize the empowerment of Nature from its subaltern position. But such empowerment of Nature first requires that the sundering of human and nonhuman realms is overcome, since, as Kate Rigby explains, only by regaining “a sense of the inextricability of nature and culture, physis and techne, earth and artifact—consumption and destruction—would be to move beyond (. . .) the arrogance of humanism.” (2002, 152) Yet, recognizing such inextricable relationship between human and Nature while overcoming the arrogance of anthropocentrism entails the ecocritical admission that all cultural discourses are in fact exploitative of Nature. Rigby states it clearly while explaining, “culture constructs the prism through which we know nature.” (2012, 154) We comprehend Nature when we apprehend the world through language and representation, but Nature precedes and exceeds words; it is therefore “real” (1992, 32) and separated by an abyss from the symbolic networks of culture that write, master, assign a meaning to and attempt to set Nature in order. From this perspective, culture is not exactly the end of Nature as much as it is an appropriation and colonization of Nature. Culture masters, dominates, and instrumentalizes the natural world. However, in a time when the “end of nature” that Bill McKibben prophesized in 1989 has been certified, when we know for a fact that it is indeed a different Earth we are living in—because by changing the climate there is not a corner of the planet that has not been affected by our actions—the evidence of global ecological endangerment compels the ecocritical debate to install environmental ethics and concerns at the crux of humanistic research. The critical enterprise is far from easy, though. The argument that cultural representations of Nature establish a relationship of domination and exploitation of human discourse over nonhuman reality is extendible to the critical task. As humanist critics, our regard for nature in literary and artistic representation is instrumental and anthropocentric. But the time has come to avenge Nature—or, at least, to critically probe into Nature’s ongoing revenge against the exploitation of culture. Nature—a different, humanly modified Nature—will remain after the climate change doomsday. Nature precedes our understanding and its conceptualization. However, despite the unimaginable damage done, it will also survive us when the Earth becomes inhabitable for humans. There will be Nature after culture, as there is now a rebellious Nature that resists in spite of culture. Thus, this volume collects a set of articles that explore, in the hands of well-reputed international experts, these very insubordinate representations of Nature in modern and contemporary literature and art. In our study, we press for the need to reassess how Nature is already and has been for a while, striking back against human domination, and for such endeavor we have collected the works of different scholars from the fields of literary studies, postcolonial studies, art, history, gender and women’s studies, film



and media studies, ethics and philosophy, cultural studies, ethnology and anthropology, and other related disciplines, to join us in this interdisciplinary volume that re-examines the intersections of culture and Nature in literary and artistic representations and which points out the insurgence of Nature within and outside of culture. TOWARD A NEW ECOCRITICAL ETHICS: CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES Avenging Nature opens with a section devoted to the realignment of ideological values as ecocriticism negotiates progressively more complex scenarios of cultural semiotics. In chapter 1, Anastasia Cardone’s “Bringing Culture Back to Nature” extols the biosemiotic implications of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974). By focusing on the study of signs in the environment, Cardone posits that Dillard’s multifarious book establishes interrelated connections with the “other,” whereupon culture is brought back to Nature and rooted in the physical world, as the subject and object of perception merge. Frank Izaguirre’s approach to Peter Mathiessen’s The Snow Lepard offers a new, insightful deconstruction of animal commodities. The chapter offers a thorough rereading of Mathiessen’s travelogue, which anticipates the commodification and commercialization of wildlife sightings avant la lettre, as the text displaces not only our own efforts to subdue wild animals visually, but also our own cultural framework to reimagine wildlife. A material ecofeminist reading of Anna Kavan’s Ice informs chapter 3. Laura de la Parra considers the ways in which human and non-human bodies are materialized by and materialize discourse in order to probe into issues such as the abused female body, failed masculinity and the narrative of romantic love in a post-apocalyptic milieu. De la Parra explores the intersections between landscape, fantasy and violence, and how they merge in a complex entanglement of power dynamics based on both nuclear and sexual politics. The chapter ultimately contends Ice articulates the ways in which the pursuit of a romantic relationship based on sexual domination seeks to appease the consequences of a Nature revolting against violent, totalitarian politics. Chapter 4 discusses the ontologies of science, Nature and human identity in Jess VanderMeer’s eco-gothic novel Annihilation (2014). Drawing from Fran Mellor’s comments on Frankenstein, Jessica Roberts critiques language and science as fundamental barriers which alienate human culture from Nature. In providing a biosemiotic take on these issues, the article argues that Annihilation is a rejection of artificial boundaries between culture and Nature and also of the power of science to categorize or control the environment.



Roberts concludes by celebrating Annihilation as a text which puts Nature at the core of its cultural dynamics. The work of Spanish symbolist artist and poet Santiago Rusiñol (1861–1931) negotiates, too, the distance between culture and Nature in his personal interpretation of landscape architecture. Laura Sanz analyzes Rusiñol’s poetry and painting as a means of expressing the essence of Spanish cultural identity in the context of “regenerationism.” EMPOWERING NATURE: TRANSCENDING ANTHROPOCENTRISM IN THE ANTHROPOCENE Part II of Avenging Nature seeks to explore critical contexts which relocate Nature and put it (back) at its center. These chapters delve into new critical contexts that challenge anthropocentrism and the Anthropocene as privileged dynamics of representation; whilst, more often than not, they bid to uphold critical alternatives which incorporate the kind of ethics explored in part I. This is the strategy that informs, to begin with, chapter 6. Hande Gurses’s “Comparative cosmopolitanism in Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall and ClaireLouise Bennett’s Pond” sets out to transcend the anthropocentric trope of solitude in search of a natural pluralism the author finds behind the veneer of human solitude. Chapter 7 draws from postcolonial and ecocritical assumptions to find common political ground in Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s Turtle Valley and The Spawning Grounds, whereupon Nature gets empowered and assumes a decolonizing role. Pedro Miguel Carmona explores this new role of Nature and concludes that both narratives promote a more sustainable coexistence between settlers and Nature. Ryan Winet also deals with issues of commonality between culture and Nature, albeit from a radically different standpoint. In chapter 8, Winet plunges us into The Xenotext a scientific/literary project aimed at encoding a poem called “Orpheus” into the genome of a bacterium in hopes of producing a work of art that will last billions of years. Through a carefully balanced critical reading of the project, Winet suggests that genetics may be more “avenging” that human-centered readings of science might suggest at first; and finally argues that the failures of The Xenotext paradoxically represent an opportunity for an ecological rereading of science and culture. Leonor Martínez Serrano, too, deals with a poetic experiment, “The Deer Yard” by Canadian Nature poets Allan Cooper and Harry Thurston, who exchanged a poetic correspondence based on the model of eighth-century Chinese poets Wang Wei and P’ei Ti’s Wang River Sequence. Martínez Serrano reads the poems paired together in The Deer Yard to disclose their authors’ biocentric intimation that human beings are a part of Nature, not



apart from Nature, and that it is life, not homo sapiens, that is at the center of existence. Finally, in chapter 10, Patrycja Austin sets out to rethink the relations between humans and the nonhuman others in the Anthropocene epoch. To this end, Austin probes into Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy and finds that the author stresses symbiotic entanglements of all life forms and the agency, vitality, and sentience of matter, both biotic and abiotic. THE AGE OF DYSTOPIA: NATURE AGAINST CULTURE IN CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE AND FILM The last section in Avenging Nature unfolds the ideological consequences derived from the critical milieus in previous sections. Almost exclusively, part III deals with speculative texts that probe into the possibility of Nature exerting its actual vengeance (fictions of the apocalypse), even as most critical approaches performed in this section take for granted the cultural vengeance Nature has already exacted by taking stage-center in twenty-firstcentury Humanism. Part III begins with Peter Melville’s staunch defense of fantasy fiction in “Demonizing Nature: Ecocriticism and Popular Fantasy.” Melville assumes the critical potential embedded in fantasy fiction only to scrutinize the ways in which High-Fantasy has failed to realize its ecocritical potential. In probing into the idea of failure, Melville paradoxically enhances this potential and links the acceptance of said failure as an aspect of the genre’s capacity for reflecting eco-crisis, in its representation of both human and nonhuman environments. Carmen Méndez García’s “Accepting the X” closes the bundle of three essays devoted to Jeff VanerMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy included in the Avenging Nature (the former two feature in chapters 4 and 10). Whilst chapter 4 assumed a biosemiotic approach to the trilogy and chapter 10 focused mostly on the relative positions Nature and Humanity took in the critical reading of hybridity, Méndez García’s take on VanderMeer’s novels sets to analyze the trilogy’s main location, Area X, as a space that has to be accepted, not controlled or understood, not in the least because the said location and its animals may survive and transcend humanity and the Anthropocene itself. The triumph of uncanny, undomesticated, and alien fauna, Méndez García contends, becomes a symbol not of death but of life, even if it is a life that does not include humanity as its center or its organizing axis. Mónica Martín posits ecocritical portrayals of ecocidal global systems in twenty-first-century, postapocalyptic films such as Children of Men, The Day after Tomorrow, I Am Legend, and Into the Forest, whilst Paula Barba Guerrero examines, too, the environmental ethics of Zal Batmanglij in his film



The East (2013) and Cormac McCarthy in his novel The Road (2006)— whose film adaptation Mónica Martín analyzes too in her chapter. In chapter 13, Martín scrutinizes the cinematic representation of dead-end spaces and natural sceneries which map out the exhaustion of the status quo and the need to redefine our utopian references; the author finds different trends in which these films deal with ecocide and the ideological consequences suggested by its representations. Similarly, Barba Guerrero focuses on the alternative ethical scenarios Batmanglij’s film and McCarthy’s novel unfold, as well as on the geopolitical consequences these scenarios entail, that is, the reconfiguration of social behavior and/or the design of new road maps to navigate the deteriorating world society has inherited. The previous two chapters find their logic conclusion in Víctor Junco Ezquerra, who, in his chapter “Another Inconvenient Truth: Hollywood and the Myth of Green Capitalism,” probes into the cultural-materialistic trends that inform Hollywood’s current take on issues like climate change or the depletion of natural resources. Additionally, Junco Ezquerra also sets to portray the ideological foundations of the new eco-friendly brand present-day neoliberalism has coined, namely, Green Capitalism. Last, but not least, Martín-Párraga’s chapter 16 conflates two ecocritical analyses on Kurt Vonnegut’s Galá pagos (1985) and Bernard Malamud’s God’s Grace (1982) respectively. The contrast between both texts inspires Martín-Párraga to discuss issues of human hubris and ecocide while contending these novels share a common element in the notion of human “de-evolution” as a means to survive the Anthropocene. NOTE 1. The editors would like to thank, deeply, Dr. Sonia Madrid Medrano for her comments, remarks and proofreading as well as her overall contribution to the process of editing this volume.

REFERENCES Glotfelty, Cheryl, and Fromm, Harold, eds. 1996. The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Huggan, Graham, and Tiffin, Helen. 2015. Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment. London and New York: Routledge. McKibben, Bill. 1989, 2006. The End of Nature. New York: Random House. Rigby, Kate. 2012. “Ecocriticism.” In Literary and Cultural Criticism at the Twenty–First Century, edited by Julian Wolfreys, 151–178. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Zizek, Slavov. 1991. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Part I

Toward a New Ecocritical Ethics Cultural Perspectives

Chapter One

Bringing Culture Back to Nature A Biosemiotic Reading of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Anastasia Cardone

Since Aristotle’s time, human beings have been considered the “rational animal,” because of reason. However, Descartes’s thought estranged the rational animal from all other animals, compared with mere machines and devoid of souls. Thus, the concept of culture was restricted to human activities, and it was inexorably separated from nature, making nature the ultimate “other.” Today, nature still remains mysterious and yet necessary to human life, since “the roots of its being are in the earth” (Fromm 2009, 43). Trying to “reconnect” with these roots, literature has provided interpretations and “translations” of nature into human language, since “we are used to saying that nature talks to us, or that it is writing a book that we read” (Sepänmaa 2014, 283). Although nature is still conceived as an object to be studied rather than a communicative subject, biosemiotics—the science that studies communication between living beings and their environment—has highlighted the possibility of conceiving a different relationship between humans and otherthan-human beings. Instead of considering language as a human prerogative, biosemiotics demonstrates that there exists living and vital communication in nature. Nature is thus thought as a tangled web of relations perfused with signs, as the scientist Charles Sanders Peirce asserts (1932, 363). Maintaining that the animal and vegetable worlds are grounded on sign exchanges does not bestow human language on other-than-human beings anthropomorphically, but it points toward the positive acceptance of the intrinsic similarities between humans and nature, underlining a mere difference of grade 9


Anastasia Cardone

rather than quality. Therefore, semiosis—the activity of signs—does not belong exclusively to culture, but it is an integral part of the natural world and requires an active participation in reality. Human culture is yet another natural evolution since it is “the whole of the sensuous world that provides the deep structure of language” (Abram 1996, 85). Human mind, body, and the outer environment are no longer separated, but they form a continuum traversed by constant flows of energy and matter, shaping the “whole creature” (Wheeler 2006, 33). Human beings thus turn from “rational animal” to “semiotic animal,” surrounded by other semiotic subjects that can be interpreted. This chapter aims at disclosing the biosemiotic suggestions in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) by the US writer Annie Dillard. This nonfiction work condenses the years she spent at Tinker Creek, in the Virginian Blue Ridge Mountains, narrating her seasonal encounters with nature in the wake of the father of American nature writing, Henry David Thoreau. Her explorations of the environment are entangled with the constant query of the simultaneous existence of good and evil in the world. Despite the limits of knowledge, the narrator searches for God’s signs in nature to grasp an insight into nature’s mysteries, recurring to epiphanies or “the illuminated moment” to interpret nature, using open–ended symbols that lead to renewed meanings (Johnson 1992, 3). The experiencer thus overcomes conceptualization and demolishes the univocal relation between sign and meaning. After analyzing Dillard’s symbols in the light of biosemiotics, I will show how the writer acknowledges the hindrances brought about by reason, language, and self–consciousness, which prevent humans from acquiring the sensual— through the senses—vision “unencumbered by meaning” (Dillard 1980, 35) and “unraveled from reasons” (39) that leads to an equal relationship with the other. In contrast, recalling Martin Buber’s concept of the I-Thou relation, the theories of the Umwelt and of Teilnahme (participation) formulated by the biologist Jacob von Uexküll, Dillard’s “seeing as a letting go” offers a renewed attitude to participate into other organisms’ Seifenblase, the bubble of perception that surrounds every being. Through sign-perception, the subject and the object of perception merge, so that human culture returns to be rooted in the physical world (Kull 2009, 82). Thus, nature is felt as a living and corporal presence, which possesses a voice that we can understand by communicatively engaging with it. Nature’s creative energy is ultimately interiorized, becoming part of culture, part of what it means to be human. TINKER CREEK: A WORLD OF SYMBOLIC SIGNS From the beginning, the world narrated in Pilgrim seems perfused in signs. The narrator starts her physical and spiritual journey with the aim of disclos-

Bringing Culture Back to Nature


ing the meanings of signs, considered tangible traces of God’s immanence in reality. She describes herself as “a sojourner seeking signs” (Dillard 1980, 233), striving to find a meaning in creation, although nature resists any interpretation. Because of nature’s dynamic flowing, signs take on renewed meanings, pointing toward different objects and multiplying their references. Any meaning bestowed on signs becomes more and more complex, like the world at Tinker Creek, which is characterized by fecundity—multiple individuals—and intricacy—multiple shapes and forms. Fecundity and intricacy are two manifestations of the same process: nature’s and the Creator’s unstoppable creativity. A telling example of the interpretative process at work in Pilgrim is the first scene, when the narrator wonders about the blood stains left by her “old fighting tom cat”: And some mornings I’d wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I’d been painted with roses. [. . .] I washed before the mirror in a daze [. . .] What blood was this, and what roses? It could have been the rose of union, the blood of murder, or the rose of beauty bare and the blood of some unspeakable sacrifice or birth. The sign on my body could have been an emblem or a stain, the keys to the kingdom or the mark of Cain. I never knew. I never knew as I washed, and the blood streaked, faded, and finally disappeared, whether I’d purified myself or ruined the blood sign of the passover (Dillard 1980, 15).

The blood stains become a forceful part of the narrator’s experience of her Umwelt (anything that a subject perceives and does) and are turned into open-ended signs, whose meaning is always developing. Through the simile introduced by “as though,” the narrator begins a dynamic process of interpretation. First, the stains are negatively connected to the blood of a murder, like Abel’s blood. Yet, blood acquires a positive meaning, being the blood of birth or of sacrifice, which the authoress is ready to undertake to achieve the mystical union with the Creator and creation. The stains are also a symbol of union, being linked to the “Union rose” of the Tudors, which conjoined the white rose of the York and the red rose of the Lancaster, restoring peace after the Wars of the Roses. Not even when the stains are washed away do they lose their semiotic importance, since the narrator still wonders whether she has purified herself from a sin or she has delayed the sign of the passover, the blood of lamb that Israelite slaves in Egypt used to mark their doorposts so that the spirit of the Lord would pass over their first-born. These ambivalent meanings introduce the double route used to interpret reality, the via positiva and the via negativa, two mystical paths that would lead to God in Neoplatonic theology. In the via positiva, God is perceived as omniscient and positive, while the philosophers of the via negativa maintain God’s inscrutable character. This double path confers the basic division of


Anastasia Cardone

chapters and themes in Pilgrim: “the book’s first half [. . .] accumulates the world’s goodness and God’s [. . .] culminates in “Intricacy [. . .] the second half of the book starts down the via negativa with “Fecundity,” the dark side of intricacy. [. . .] A concluding chapter keeps the bilateral symmetry” (Dillard 2011, 279–80). Such bilateral symmetry reflects Peirce’s “Thirdness” or symbolic comprehension, where the third is “the medium or connecting bond between the absolute first and last. [. . .] Sympathy, flesh and blood, that by which I feel my neighbor’s feelings, is third” (Peirce 1932, 363). The relation between the object and the sign is established by the narrator’s interpretations of the world, following either the via positiva or the via negativa. Therefore, reality is not described objectively, according to a cause-effect relation, but it is represented as a semiosphere, where any element is pregnant with spiritual meanings. This openness to meanings allows the merging of the two mystical paths in a third way, the via creativa, which reconnects the cycles of “rising and falling, filling and emptying, living and dying” (Smith 1991, 48) that underlie the text. This is not a synthesis of thesis and antithesis, but it highlights the exuberance and freedom that characterize God, nature, and the perceiver, who becomes interpreter and cocreator of the world. The via creativa is shaped through cyclical images, such as the convoluted skin of a snake in “Untying the Knot,” moon cycles, the loops of Henle in kidneys, and recurrent themes constantly interpreted from a refreshed perspective. Thus, the “giant water bug” that sucked out a frog’s body and “ate the world” (Dillard 1980, 237) is not only the incarnation of the world’s cruelty, but it incorporates the whole world in the act of eating, becoming a symbol of unity and wholeness. Events at Tinker Creek are tinged with the subjective hues of the perceiving subject, becoming loaded with meanings. One of the most layered symbols is Tinker Creek itself, which is not only a physical but also a mental, symbolic place. It represents the active mystery, the endless flow of life that does not stop in front of individual deaths, thus becoming a synonym of evolution; it is God’s immanence and the mediator between God and human beings, allowing the purification of the soul. By using the metaphor of the flood to physically describe how the river swamps anything on its course, the narrator highlights that “the creek is more like itself when it floods than at any other time: mediating, bringing things down” (Dillard 1980, 137). Echoing the conventions of Christian and Hindu traditions, the creek assumes human characteristics by acting as a mediator, where all contrasts merge by following the via creativa, as narrated in the final chapter “The Waters of Separation.” The waters of Tinker Creek perform a unifying and purifying action, as they embrace the symbolic dualisms of nature and wash the narrator: “These are the waters of beauty and mystery, issuing from a gap in the granite world; they fill the lodes in my cells with a light like petaled water, and they churn in my lungs mighty and frigid [. . .] these are also the waters

Bringing Culture Back to Nature


of separation: they purify, acrid and laving, and they cut me off” (Dillard 1980, 233). By refreshing her perspective in the creek’s purifying waters, the narrator could read nature symbolically, achieve the vision of the spirit and harmonically embrace the most terrifying natural events. Therefore, the semiotic world of Pilgrim is complex, as every natural sign is not read univocally but it is open to new interpretations. This process is narrated through the recurrence of the same images as to create successive layers of meaning. Dillard explains the peculiarities of her “nonallegorical” symbols: “It is when these symbols break their allegorical boundaries, their commitment to reference, that they start stepping out on us. The laxity of their bonds permits them to enter unsuspected relationships. They become suggestive” (Dillard 1982, 165). In her reading, nature’s mystery is perfectly performed, because a stable relation between the object, the sign, and the interpreter cannot be established. A sign is not forcefully inserted in a singular exclusive relation with the object—an external entity—but it works actively, bestowing meaning to a series of connections outside of the object. These connections are evoked through organic language, which “returns to the world, not as its mirror, but as emergent from it and therefore embedded in it” (Cheney 1990, 43). Since sight is the primary sensory perception, Dillard underlines the need to mentally and physically widen one’s perspective, opening up to the world and getting rid of the “naturally obvious.” This sight is characterized by prejudices, which would link a symbol to one and only meaning. In contrast, the narrator is looking for a correct mode of seeing natural facts: “It’s one of those nights when I wander from window to window, looking for a sign. But I can’t see. [. . .] No culture explains, no bivouac offers real haven or rest.” (Dillard 1980, 34–35) Culture cannot offer a definitive answer to her search for signs, but she has to attune herself to nature’s changes to establish renewed and corporal relationships with the surrounding environment. Instead, by deconstructing any constant relation between the sign and its signified, the observer could see the world like a newborn, reaching “unself–consciousness.” For Dillard this means the total unawareness of the self but the extreme awareness of the outer world. Thus, she is looking for “the color-patches of infancy,” a blurred effect that makes objects appear devoid of form, distance, and size. These color–patches stand for a primitive and wild form of sight, free from reason: “maybe we all could see color-patches too, the world unraveled from reason, Eden before Adam gave names. The scales would drop from my eyes; I’d see trees like men walking; I’d run down the road against all orders, hallooing and leaping” (Dillard 1980, 39). The biblical metaphor underlines the necessity of bringing humanity back to a condition that preceded the domineering impositions of names on creatures in Eden. A world without names—thus without concepts—is a pure world,


Anastasia Cardone

where humans embrace any external signs without constraining nature’s creativity. These open-ended signs acknowledge the narrator’s awareness of nature’s otherness. By avoiding pathetic fallacy and stripping away her own prejudices, she sees nature as a constant flux of energy, running in the roots of trees and in human veins alike. Only by getting rid of the “mechanical” cultural concepts could human beings understand organic nature: “What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality” (Dillard 1980, 126). While nomenclature conceptualized organisms, as Adam did in Eden, precluding further layers of meaning, Dillard calls for an opening to meanings, which overlap the level of the signifier—the phonetic and graphic elements associated to a name. As in Peirce’s semiotics, the interpreter’s role is fundamental for the creation of a constantly developing relation between the sign and the physical object. While the physical, visible sign in nature is singular, it represents unity in multiplicity, because of its different subjective interpretations. Dillard emphasizes the need to widen one’s perspective on the world, decodifying signs by endlessly refreshing one’s perception. SEEING: VERBALIZING VERSUS LETTING GO Despite the multiplicity of the world, the narrator detects a fundamental problem in her perception of nature, which prevents her from seeing the color-patches: reason. It represents a barrier that hinders the complete merging with others’ Umwelten. Therefore, the Cartesian dualism between res cogitans (mental substance) and res extensa (corporeal substance) proves again problematic in twentieth–century nature writing, “troubled by the combined intellectual and spiritual consciousness of Newtonian and Cartesian thought, which separated spirit and matter and placed nature beneath humans in importance” (McClintock 1997, 84). Dillard’s narrator constantly looks for a sensual vision “unencumbered by meaning” and “unraveled from reason” that would lead to the mystic epiphany in nature and with nature. However, Dillard is aware that, as humans, we cannot do without reason and culture, but she tries to include culture in natural processes, turning it into a useful means to gain a more intimate relationship with the world. The difference between the traditional understanding of human place in nature and a deeper relationship with ‘the other’ is exemplified by two kinds of seeing: “seeing as a verbalization” and “seeing as a letting go.” The former is an active way of stalking the vision that requires the utmost attention, while the latter implies a passive merging between the subject and the object

Bringing Culture Back to Nature


of perception; it is a complete emptying of the self and an abandonment of one’s singular individuality: “I was as purely sensitive and mute as a photographic plate; I received impressions [. . .] My own self–awareness had disappeared; it seems now almost as though, had I been wired with electrodes, my EEG would have been flat” (Dillard 1980, 176). Dillard describes this status of near–unconsciousness of the self as a total receptiveness of outer inputs. While verbalization is positive when it stops at a “heightened awareness” of the other (which also allows the act of writing), the union with the world is lost when attention is focused inwardly, becoming self–consciousness: “Self–consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the presence. It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest” (Dillard 1980, 80). When verbalizing is not tied to reality, we cannot establish a significant relationship with the other: “the second I become aware of myself [. . .] the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight [. . .] And time, which had flowed down into the tree bearing new revelations [. . .] ceases. It dams, stills, stagnates” (Dillard 1980, 80). Self–awareness makes the leading vision of Pilgrim—the tree with the lights in it—vanishes, so that time, instead of flowing like Tinker Creek, stops and the whole perception of reality stagnates. Such self–consciousness is humanity’s curse, which made man a completely isolated being in nature: “It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize as separating us from our creator—our very self-consciousness—is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures. It was a bitter birthday present from evolution, cutting us off at both ends” (Dillard 1980, 78). Inward verbalization and the conscious use of language—the evolutionary trait that characterizes human beings—have separated us from the rest of creation, preventing a pure experience of nature. Directly associated to self-consciousness, culture is described as “the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies” (Dillard 1980, 80), the utter alienation of humans from nature. However, Dillard provides a valid solution through “seeing as a letting go.” While verbalizing is similar to the observation of one’s Umwelt that Uexküll defines as Beobachtung—the experience of the world through the senses and rational knowledge—the letting go can be compared to the concept of Teilnahme or participation in the life of the other. A similar dichotomy is also at the root of Martin Buber’s distinction between the world as the object of subjective experience—the relation Ich–Es (where Es means “object”)—and the world as relations between the subject and the other, the Ich–Du (where the self uses the pronoun “you” to address the other). This relation reflects the reciprocity between the subject and the object of perception, the full realization of humanity: “We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human” (Abram 1996, 22). By stopping at the rational, scientific observation of the world, nature remains the object of perception; in contrast, by embracing the “other” and resisting objectifica-


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tion, the subject participates in the other’s Umwelt, shaping the relation Ich–Du. The subject turns into a shared subjectivity, where objects reciprocally become subjects. In Pilgrim, such participation in the unknown world of another creature is carried out by forgetting the sophistications of consciousness and by stripping away one’s prejudices, a process of “unlearning and un-knowing” (Slovic 1992, 64). Thus, the perceiver becomes receptive to the endlessly renewed meanings that unfold in nature. For a moment, she steps outside her own mind and merges with reality, without physical and mental barriers: It all floods back to you. [. . .] this is the real weather, the lavender light fading, the full moisture in your lungs, the heat from the pavement on your lips and palms—not the dry orange dust from horses’ hooves, the salt sea, the sour Coke—but this solid air, the blood pumping up your thighs again, your fingers alive. And on the way home you drive exhilarated, energized, under scented, silhouetted trees (Dillard 1980, 83).

By abandoning the sophistications of the city—the Coke, the dust in towns— the narrator could physically breathe the “solid air” and feel the force of blood in her veins. Dillard’s aim is living the truest life in relation with nature and regaining that status of innocent purity before Adam named creatures. The subject focuses on the world, her senses are enhanced, and she accepts anything that nature has to offer. This “death of the self,” as Dillard defines it, allows nature to penetrate into her mind, in an act of communion where her inner microcosm fuses with her perceptual sphere: “The death of the self [. . .] is no violent act. It is merely the joining of the great rock heart of the earth in its roll. It is merely the slow cessation of the will’s sprints and the intellect’s chatter: it is waiting like a hollow bell with stilled tongue” (Dillard 1980, 226). Through a passive and yet organic process, will and reason are silenced, but the merging with the other is fulfilled. Thanks to this union with the environment, culture is no longer considered an artificial product of reason, detached from its roots in nature. Initially, culture is what separates the narrator from the prolific and violent world described in the chapter “Fecundity,” as it anchors her to human values: “It looks for the moment as though I might have to reject this creek life unless I want to be utterly brutalized. Is human culture with its values my only real home after all? Can it possibly be that I should move my anchor-hold to the side of a library?” (Dillard 1980, 158) wonders the narrator. Human values seem totally different from the brutal, careless forces that govern nature. Thus, the writer would seek refuge in the town and the library, the two temples of culture. Nevertheless, Dillard understands that culture is actually rooted in the physical world of the creek: “since I cannot avoid the library altogether—the human culture that taught me to speak in its tongue—I bring human values to the creek, and so save myself from being brutalized” (Dil-

Bringing Culture Back to Nature


lard 1980, 160). Thus, culture (language, social relations, and literature) is reconceptualized and brought back to its natural origins by the creek, where it becomes “A fling of leafy motion on the cliffs, the assault of real things, living and still, with shapes and powers under the sky” (Dillard 1980, 187–88). Bringing culture back to nature allows a wider comprehension of the world, perceived as a living presence that escapes manipulation and possesses its own voice. Human beings, therefore, learn to listen to this voice and interpret its silence through a sensual relationship with the “real things” Dillard refers to. Nature is interiorized, offering the roots of culture and allowing to feel the world as humans’ original abode. RECIPROCAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH NATURE Through the experience of the letting go of self-consciousness, the narrator spiritually renews herself and physically merges with the world. She thus embraces the semiosphere, allowing the outer world to penetrate her mind, becoming a tissue of sense in communion with nature: “So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree” (Dillard 1980, 80). By losing herself in the tree, the narrator refines her senses, even perceiving the leafy breath. Through this image, she acknowledges the same biological principle that underlies organic life (the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide during photosynthesis in plants and cellular respiration in animals). Losing oneself in the world actually means finding oneself by increasing one’s awareness of nature and welcoming the world in one’s self. In Pilgrim, the narrator testifies the modeling influence that nature has on her consciousness and her body, which both prepare for the opening toward the multiple meanings in natural events. She passively allows nature to violently brutalizing and mistreating her like the flood of the creek from the chapter “The Flood”: “Not only does something come if you wait, but it pours over you like a waterfall, like a tidal wave. You wait in all naturalness without expectation or hope, emptied, translucent, and that which comes rocks and topples you” (Dillard 1980, 227). The metamorphic and flowing world has an active action on her body and her consciousness, since nature is not only created matter but also—and more importantly—creating energy. Assertions like “As I move, or as the world moves around me” (Dillard 1980, 81) testify that the narrator has established reciprocal, semiotic relations with nature. Given nature’s active features, the writer wonders about the degree of consciousness that characterizes the surrounding world. It is easier to establish communicative relationships with animals, who seem provided with a sort of intentionality—or consciousness—in their action. For instance, in


Anastasia Cardone

“Fecundity” the narrator meditates about the frog being sucked by the giant water bug and she acknowledges that “The frog [. . .] had, presumably, a rush of pure feeling for about a second, before its brain turned to broth” (Dillard 1980, 159). Was the frog conscious about what was happening? Similarly, in the appalling world of fecundity, millions of barnacles die, but “Do the barnacle larvae care?” (Dillard 1980, 159). Thus, the narrator is wondering whether barnacles not only have sensations but are also able to reflect about what they are experiencing. While mammals seem the most conscious animals, Dillard underlines that the possibility of feeling would rather be a curse than a gift, since it inflicts useless pain: “some higher animals have emotions that we think are similar to ours: dogs, elephants, otters, and the sea mammals mourn their dead. Why do that to an otter? What creator could be so cruel, not to kill otters, but let them care?” (Dillard 1980, 159). The fact that higher animals have emotions is interpreted as God’s deliberate cruelty, since consciousness brings about care mingled with suffering. Nevertheless, in “Stalking” animals’ consciousness is more positively conceived. The majority of animals stalked by the narrator willingly try to hide, as the heron “fairly determined not to fly away” (Dillard 1980, 167), who, feeling observed, keeps a watchful eye on the human observer. In general, birds demonstrate a sort of awareness, expressed by the verb “to want”: “I find it hard to see anything about a bird that it does not want seen” (Dillard 1980, 168). In contrast, insects seem “happily oblivious to my presence” (Dillard 1980, 168) and allow the observer to watch the hatching of their eggs or their reproduction, as no veils cover their prolific life. The animal that demonstrates the highest degree of consciousness is the muskrat, with whom the narrator establishes a reciprocal relationship through a play of chasing and escaping. The narrator tries to see muskrats without being seen, but they can anticipate her movement: “Now I [. . .] have learned to stand perfectly still to make out the muskrat’s small, pointed face hidden under overhanging bank vegetation, watching me” (Dillard 1980, 170). Sight acquires significance to evaluate animals’ awareness. Animals that could see only moving objects or cannot see very well are considered less aware than other, as the narrator implies: “was I really going through all this for a creature without any sense whatsoever?” (Dillard 1980, 175). However, although muskrats seem unaware of human presence because of their fallacious sight, they can instinctively perceive the buzz generated by human self–consciousness. By silencing her self–consciousness, the narrator can stalk muskrats: “he never knew I was there. I never knew I was there, either” (Dillard 1980, 176). Therefore, the reciprocity between the narrator and the animal is obtained through the total deprivation of self–awareness. Recalling Leonard Scigaj’s assertion that “the activity of seeing intertwines the human and nonhuman worlds” (1999, 8), in “The Horns of the

Bringing Culture Back to Nature


Altar” visual relationship is established with a copperhead snake. The authoress wonders whether the snake was aware of her presence: Did it see me? [. . .] How could I tell where it was looking, what it was seeing? I squinted at its head, staring at those eyes like the glass eyes of a stuffed warbler, at those scales like shields canted and lapped just so, to frame an improbable, unfathomable face. Yes, it knew I was there. There was something about its eyes, some alien alertness. [. . .] All right then, copperhead. I know you’re here, you know I’m there (Dillard 1980, 197).

The narrator focuses on the snake’s eyes, trying to detect its gaze, although the animal escapes any investigation. Its inexplicable nature is described through its “glass eyes” and its shield–like scales. Then, the human observer establishes a relationship between peers with the snake, as the final sentence highlights, thanks to the compact structure of the parallelism with inverted subjects. The narrator and the animal are both conscious and respectful of the other’s presence. Such attention is defined as “alien,” unfamiliar and mysterious. Yet, the transition from the third person pronoun (“it”) to the second person (“you”) to address the snake highlights this newly–established relationship with the animal, recalling Buber’s concept of the I-Thou relation. However, on several occasions, the narrator admits not to be aware of the other’s existence, because she cannot see the animal who, in contrast, is extremely receptive toward human presence. When dealing with the timber rattler, Dillard admits: “I’ve never seen one in the wild; I don’t know how many have seen me” (Dillard 1980, 197). The writer acknowledges her unawareness of the outer world, which is mainly due to her imperfect sight. Yet, not seeing an animal does not mean not being seen. In fact, by not seeing, humans believe to be unique in the world, rejoicing in this alleged loneliness, but they are actually surrounded by multitudes of hidden and invisible beings. The subterranean life that expands under the roots of the sycamore tree cannot be seen, but it exists and deeply affects human life: But under me, directly under the weight of my body on the grass, are other creatures, just as real, for whom also this moment, this tree, is “it.” Take just the top inch of soil, the world squirming right under my palms. In the top inch of forest soil, biologists found “an average of 1,356 living creatures present in each square foot.” Had an estimate also been made of the microscopic population, it might have ranged up to two billion bacteria and many millions of fungi, protozoa and algae [. . .] The chrysalids of butterflies linger here too, folded, rigid, and dreamless. I might as well include these creatures in this moment, as best I can. My ignoring them won’t strip them of their reality, and admitting them, one by one, into my consciousness might heighten mine, might add their dim awareness to my human consciousness, such as it is, and set up a buzz, a vibration [. . .] (Dillard 1980, 91).


Anastasia Cardone

This hidden nature and human beings are related, since for both the tree is an “it,” a reference in their Umwelten. Therefore, this “squirming” world deserves respect, as the narrator affirms: “Keeping the subsoil world under trees in mind, in intelligence, is the least I can do” (Dillard 1980, 91). It sounds like a call for acceptance and humbleness, which can be reached by acknowledging and including the presence of these beings in one’s perceptive sphere. Acquiring a heightened consciousness of this vibrating and yet invisible world may enhance human awareness and elevate the perception of reality, leading to a holistic comprehension of nature. Furthermore, such realization products a buzz or vibration between organisms, a metaphor to represent the reciprocal awareness of the other’s presence and the attunement to each other. In biosemiotic terms, welcoming other organisms in one’s Umwelt and establishing communicative relations based on semiotic exchanges allow humans to include and be included in the animal’s Umwelt. The reciprocal inclusion into others’ Umwelten shapes a tangled web of energetic and semiotic exchanges that heighten the awareness of humans and other-than-human organisms alike. TWIRLING LIKE A MAPLE KEY The application of biosemiotic theories to the reading of Pilgrim highlights the constant exchange of energy and signs at work in nature, which is thus perceived as creative and dynamic. Humans need to learn how to be included again in this natural cycle by listening to other-than-human beings, turning decay into relation, death into life, the grotesque into awe. These dualisms merge thanks to the narrator’s opening to contradiction, leading to what John Elder defines as a “cross-fertilization” between human and natural realities, a semiotic, subjective exchange between organisms and their Umwelten (1996, 169). As said, the perceiving subject is simultaneously the perceived object, and vice versa. Therefore, human beings and nature are no longer thought as two separate realities, but they are grounded on the same soil, despite retaining their peculiar characteristics. Since there are differences in degree (but not in type) between species, human beings cannot live a complete animal life, as they possess unique prerogatives: “We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state. We can leave the library then, go back to the creek lobotomized, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed. You first” (Dillard 1980, 159). Humans cannot undergo a lobotomy and completely erase their emotions, their morality, their reason, living a life of pure instinct like muskrats or barnacles. The library—the symbol of culture—cannot be avoided but must be reintegrated in the environment as a natural process, by learning from animals how to live more intuitively.

Bringing Culture Back to Nature


From a biosemiotic perspective, any semiotic exchange with the world is based on individual and subjective sensations. Therefore, any experience of reality is irremediably “human,” being experienced by a human. Since any perception is subjective, then the “egocentric” self is at the center of the Umwelt, though without being “anthropocentric.” The narrator, in fact, respectfully acknowledges the presence and action of other beings to regain that state of Edenic innocence before Adam bestowed names—and meanings—on creatures: “Adam seems sometimes an afterthought in Eden” (Dillard 1980, 189), affirms the narrator, wondering “Why didn’t God let the animals in Eden name the man?” (Dillard 1980, 194). These statements highlight the writer’s biocentric attitude and the reciprocity required in the human–nature relationship. Pilgrim stresses that human beings can build a direct relationship—not mediated by reason—with every living being, even the most grotesque forms. The falling of the barriers between humans and the world determines the attainment of living language, which allows the mind to express its complete participation in nature’s rhythms: “Night risings and fallings filled my mind, free excursions carried out invisibility while the air swung up and back and the starlight rained” (Dillard 1980, 192). By looking for “real creatures and real encounter at the edge” (Dillard 1980, 193), the narrator lets the “risings and fallings” of the night penetrate her conscience and her language can thus mirror nature’s rhythms. Having found the origins of language in nature, Dillard understands that culture is a natural product, discovering the sense of wholeness that underlies the universe and extends beyond human individuality and consciousness. The summit of Dillard’s biosemiotic discourse is represented by the conclusive image of Pilgrim, which includes several arguments herein discussed: the maple key. The maple tree is first introduced in the last but one chapter: “I passed under a sugar maple that stunned me by its elegant unself–consciousness: it was as if a man on fire were to continue calmly sipping tea” (Dillard 1980, 216). The tree’s complete “unself–consciousness” represents the denial of the “self,” given the position of the prefix “un-,” but it does not negate consciousness. Such unawareness of the self is depicted through the simile with a man on fire, which recalls the vivid color of the maple leaves. The narrator delineates a web of connections between the human being, the tree, and fire, a symbol of regeneration and purification, echoed some pages after in the description of “the flames of the forest maples” (Dillard 1980, 221). The symbolic connotation of the tree lies the foundations for the final mystical vision: I was standing lost, sunk, my hands in my pockets, gazing towards Tinker Mountain and feeling the earth reel down. All at once I saw what looked like a Martian spaceship whirling towards me in the air. It flashed borrowed light like a propeller. Its forward motion greatly outran its fall. As I watched, trans-


Anastasia Cardone fixed, it rose, just before it would have touched a thistle, and hovered pirouetting in one spot, then twirled on and finally came to rest. I found it in the grass; it was a maple key, a single winged seed from a pair. Hullo. I threw it into the wind and it flew off again, bristling with animate purpose, not like a thing dropped or windblown, [. . .] but like a creature muscled and vigorous, or a creature spread thin to that other wind, the wind of the spirit [. . .] (Dillard 1980, 234).

The terms “lost,” ”sunk,” and “transfixed” underline the necessity to abandon her self to gain the mystical vision. Dillard recurs to images already employed to describe this experience, such as the spirit that descends from the mountain, the passive and unfathomable mystery, and a symbol of union in multiplicity, the samara, which is a single seed enclosed in a nutlet attached to two fibrous wings. The authoress affectionately addresses the maple key using the second pronoun “you” and saying “Hullo,” as if she were talking with a close friend. Moreover, she highlights the energetic and vital quality of nature, which expresses its creativity in the seed. The samara does not let itself be transported unconsciously, but it seems active, provided with willingness, “like a creature muscled and vigorous,” whose symmetric wings are like the propeller of a spaceship. The maple key is also the being that connects the real and corporeal wind with the spirit’s breath, thus becoming the symbol of union between God’s immanence and transcendence. The image of the samara is so dense in meanings that it leads to the writer’s complete identification with the seed, whose falling does not stand for death but for a new beginning, being a propelling and energetic movement. Furthermore, the fall is a vortex, as the verbs “reel,” “hover,” “pirouette” and “twirl” stress, thus reflecting the perfect circularity and integrity of the world, like a joyful dance with nature. The seed is transported by the wind—thus by the spirit— leading to the blossoming of a new life. The same wind passes through the narrator’s rib cage and makes her resound like a bell, till the total identification with the maple key: “[. . .] when I sway to a fitful wind, alone and listing, I will think, maple key. When I see a photograph of earth from space, the planet so startlingly painterly and hung, I will think, maple key. When I shake your hand or meet your eyes I will think, two maple keys. If I am a maple key falling, at least I can twirl” (Dillard 1980, 234–35). The samara thus represents the interrelated immanence of nature’s regenerative powers, as the world’s intricate complexity and grotesque fecundity flow into this image. Not only the narrator herself, swayed—both physically and psychologically affected—by the wind, but all the living beings and the earth become maple keys, twirling like spirals. Such fall is no longer associated with sin, pain, and the loss of Eden, but with regeneration and rebirth to a new life. Being the central symbol of the via creativa, the maple key stands for the inexhaustible auto–poietic capacity of both human beings and nature, the principle at the basis of life. The seed represents yet another example of

Bringing Culture Back to Nature


interconnection and plurality in the world, which leads to the ability to listen to and interpret nature’s meaningful messages. In conclusion, Dillard’s most intimate message is the development of love and acceptance toward the natural world in its multiplicity and wholeness, where human beings become again semiotic animals. REFERENCES Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-ThanHuman World. New York: Vintage Books. Buber, Martin. 2008. I and Thou. Translated by Ronald Gregor Smith. Hong Kong: Hesperides. Cheney, Jim. 1990. “‘The Waters of Separation’: Myth and Ritual in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 6, no. 1 (Spring): 41–63. Dillard, Annie. 1980. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. London: Picador. ———. 1982. Living by Fiction. New York: Harper. ———. 2011. “Afterword.” In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, edited by Annie Dillard, 278–282. New York: Harper Perennials. Elder, John. 1996. Imagining the Earth: Poetry and the Vision of Nature. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Fromm, Harold. 2009. The Nature of Being Human: From Environmentalism to Consciousness. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Johnson, Sandra Humble. 1992. The Space Between: Literary Epiphany in the Work of Annie Dillard. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press. Kull, Kalevi. 2009. “Biosemiotics: To Know, What Life Knows.” Cybernetics and Human Knowing 16, no. 1–2: 81–88. McClintock, James I. 1997. “‘Pray Without Ceasing’: Annie Dillard among the Nature Writers.” In Earthly Words: Essays on Contemporary American Nature and Environmental Writers, edited by John Cooley, 69–86. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Peirce, Charles Sanders. 1932. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and others. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Scigaj, Leonard M. 1992. Sustainable Poetry: Four American Ecopoets. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press. Sepänmaa, Yrjö. 2004. “Environmental Stories: Speaking and Writing Nature.” In The Aesthetics of Natural Environments, edited by Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant, 283–294. Peterborough: Broadview Press. Slovic, Scott. 1992. Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing: Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. Smith, Linda L. 1991. Annie Dillard. New York: Twayne U. S. Uexküll, Jacob von. 2010. “The Theory of Meaning.” In Essential Readings in Biosemiotics, edited by Donald Favareau, 81–114. Dordrecht: Springer. Wheeler, Wendy. 2006. The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics and the Evolution of Culture. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Chapter Two

“Have You Seen the Snow Leopard?” Animal Commodity Resistance in Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard Frank Izaguirre

The prolific novelist and nonfiction writer Peter Matthiessen often chose wildlife as his subject–matter, perhaps most famously in his The Snow Leopard (1978), a travelogue and the 1979 National Book Award winner that chronicles his two-month-long trip with his friend and professional biologist George Schaller, whom he refers to as GS throughout the tale, to search for the book’s animal namesake in the Tibetan Plateau. Regarding Matthiessen’s manner of portraying wildlife, environmental historian Jennifer Adams Martin offers this critique of his earlier Wildlife in America (1959): “By describing various animals as dumb (Gila monster) or silent (California condor), Matthiessen crafted a rhetoric that underscored the finality of animal death and extinction relative to human power” (2011, 452). Martin favors a discourse of wildlife rhetoric “that examines animals as subjects and not simply objects of human influence,” and her critique of Matthiessen’s rendering of animals as passive objects incapable of exhibiting agency or exerting will upon the world in Wildlife in America might be applied to a large number of genres depicting wildlife: field guides, glossy coffee table books, reference books, and also wildlife-seeking travelogues and nature memoirs like The Snow Leopard. Within the nature writing world, a popular subgenre of books is travelogues recounting the adventures of wildlife-seekers who attempt to find and record as many individual species of a given taxonomic type, often birds but not necessarily, within a delineated geographic area during a calendar year. Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher’s Wild America (1955) was one of the 25


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first of these narratives, and more are published each year from regions all over the world, and sometimes traversing the entire world. Meanwhile, the genre of extinction literature has also become popular: works that lament and contemplate the extermination of species, such as the dozen or so books recently published about the passenger pigeon to commemorate the centennial of its physical disappearance from this world, or Alvin Powell’s The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird: The Discovery and Death of the Po’ouli (2008). As theorist Akira Lippit writes in her Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (2000) with regards to extinct animals, “animals never entirely vanish. Rather, they exist in a state of perpetual vanishing” (Lippit 2000, 1), a state reflected in the burgeoning literature of extinction among other ways. But what about animals that are neither extinct nor easily commodified? What about animals that resist extermination efforts, either purposeful or incidental, as well as commodification efforts arising from a global populace increasingly able and interested in consuming wildlife experiences? In this essay, I will argue that Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard anticipates the coming commodification and commercialization of wildlife sightings, even of the rarest and most elusive creatures, and is a celebration of their ability to resist our gaze. Despite all our access to wild places and ability to enter even remote destinations with relative ease and convenience, some animals, as Peter Matthiessen’s snow leopard, defy even the hardiest attempts to be detected, and in doing so confound the extinction/consumable binary created by field guides, the ecotourism industry, and our ever–expanding presence in wild, remote places. Martin’s critique of Matthiessen’s Wildlife in America notwithstanding, by examining Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard, we will see that the text displaces not only our own efforts to subdue wild animals by visually engaging them, but that the snow leopard itself is a binary–breaking disruption of the literary imagination of wildlife. The contemporary turn in our bibliofication of wildlife has been their commodification as itemized consumables, but the historical roots of portraying wildlife in a static manner in American environmental writing is long. Perhaps most evident in the genre of field guides, which duplicate animals as passive, immobile entities, this lineage can be traced back to Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1729–1741), the first work to attempt to depict all wildlife species in a given geographic region in America, a kind of Wildlife in America two hundred years prior. This work served as the template for wildlife bibliofication projects for some time, for instance, Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology (1808–1814) and John James Audubon’s The Birds of America (1827–1839). In the late nineteenth century, the genre evolved as various prolific authors, mostly women, wrote several books about natural history directed toward encouraging natural history study among amateurs. Some of these

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authors include Florence Merriam Bailey, Neltje Blanchan, Olive Thorne Miller, and Mabel Osgood Wright, among others. This era most notably began with Florence Merriam Bailey’s Birds through an Opera-Glass (1890) and gained steam with Mabel Osgood Wright’s Birdcraft: A Field Book of Two Hundred Song, Game, and Water Birds (1895). As Daniel Philippon explains in Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement (2005), still denied the right to vote, women found that they were able to exert influence in the public sphere by using their association with and authority over the domestic space as a means to enter conversations about broader issues (Philippon 2005, 73). So, for instance, authors like Olive Thorne Miller, Florence Merriam Bailey, and Mabel Osgood Wright could write books that were on the surface mostly about gardens, including the bird and plant life often found in gardens, but carried much broader implications and applications for conservation efforts outside gardens while also exerting influence on cultural conventions of the time. When Roger Tory Peterson published Field Guide to the Birds in 1934, the wildlife portrayal genre was changed forever. The greatest hallmark of the Petersonian system is to strip the florid writing style of his predecessors of any morally–imbued alignments or lyric descriptions of birds and their homes. The Petersonian move was to separate field identification from other explicitly stated values of the second era—appreciation, conservation, and good personal health. Natural history–based hobbies like birdwatching exploded in popularity and began their ascent as a widespread pastime increasingly less ostracized from mainstream culture. That Matthiessen’s Wildlife in America, a popular work in the time of its publication and an early factor in his ascent as one of the most prolific and successful nature writers of the twentieth century, appeared just twenty years after the emergence of Field Guide to the Birds is not a coincidence: Wildlife in America’s acclaim is in large part due to burgeoning popularity of natural history pastimes and environmental awareness at the time of its publication. But these methods of wildlife depiction are not without their constraints and consequences. As Spencer Schaffner demonstrates in his Binocular Vision: The Politics of Representation in Birdwatching Field Guides (2011), field guides and site guides render wildlife as entities decontextualized from the habitats in which they live that can be found, observed, and documented for middle- and upper-class travelers. An entire industry has arisen, which specializes in delivering wildlife sightings to customers, even in remote and difficult-toaccess places. In an effectively anticipatory move of this ever-expanding objectification of wild animals, Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard offers a celebration of animal resistance to wildlife eco–commodification. Matthiessen’s journey through the Himalayan Plateau of Nepal in search of the snow leopard is mirrored by two other personal journeys: he seeks also to heal from the death of his wife, who succumbed to cancer, and to hone his


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spiritual connection to the principles of Zen Buddhism. Yet those goals become obvious only later in the travelogue. In the prologue, he lays out his goal, and thus frames the narrative of his journey by stating that where bharal are found and numerous, the rarest and most beautiful of the great cats could, with extreme luck, also be found: the snow leopard. His friend GS knew of only two Westerners who had seen it in the last twenty-five years, GS being one of them. The entire purpose of his journey was to give himself a chance to glimpse this special animal (Matthiessen 1978, 3). Laden with a desire to see this rare and even more rarely seen animal, one might note how Matthiessen’s goal to see the snow leopard, to obtain and in some sense own a glimpse of it, is at odds with his spiritual quest, to relinquish and to be more firmly rooted in the now. Matthiessen lavishes significant attention in the text to the natural history of the snow leopard. The leopard is rare, but also wary and elusive to such a degree that it is something of a magical being (Matthiessen 1978, 152), so much so that its camouflage in the places where it lies is so superb, even those who seek the creature can be staring straight at it and not see the animal. This makes the snow leopard a creature of both natural history and myth. Even the people who live in its haunts and know the mountains well rarely surprise the animal and come upon it first. Most sightings are made by hunters lying prostrate and still near a wild herd a snow leopard is stalking. Matthiessen cites an explorer of Central Asia and Tibet who on his journey found wolves, wild donkeys, the mountain sheep known as argali or Marco Polo sheep, orongo antelopes, wild camels, bears, and even the uncommonly encountered Turkestan tiger, but never the snow leopard. Even his friend GS has only seen two adults and a single cub, first in the Chitral Gol of Pakistan in 1970, and in the spring just before their journey, after baiting with live goats, when he was able to capture the snow leopard on film for the first time in the wild. This is all in spite of the snow leopard’s massive range across the mountainous areas of Central Asia, from the Afghani Hindu Kush east to the Himalaya and then across Tibet into China, as well as in mountains of Russia and western China and on the Siberian border of Mongolia. The animal has pale, blue eyes and gray, thick, and misty fur, punctuated by black rosettes. As the journey develops, so does Matthiessen’s relationship to the snow leopard. The desire to see the animal ebbs and flows, at times replaced with a yearning not for a future glimpse, but of an impermanent and unattainable present, until finally, the fleetingness of the present itself becomes his goal and joy. Somewhat bizarrely paralleling Matthiessen’s search for the snow leopard is a cryptozoological search, one he is perhaps hesitant to explicitly state but effectively reveals. The Snow Leopard devotes nearly as much textual space to the fabled yeti of the Himalaya as to the book title’s namesake snow leopard (Matthiessen 1978, 123). Matthiessen describes them as large, upright creatures that are hairy and reddish-brown with a

“Have You Seen the Snow Leopard?”


pointy–headed appearance. They leave numerous tracks and were once seen, supposedly, in a high snowfield on the north side of Mount Everest by British mountaineers. He also describes how the yeti has been met with the utmost skepticism from the scientific community. It should be noted how Matthiessen chooses to pair his description of the yeti with other indigenous wildlife, like the brown bear, explaining how there are no brown bears to the south of the Himalaya, although both black bears and langurs can be found, noting also that bears hibernate in the winter, when yeti sightings occur most often. He allocates his yeti descriptions with more standard natural history classifications as a form of legitimizing the creature, rather than segregating it in a cryptozoological section. How can readers reconcile Matthiessen’s interest in an animal that is almost certainly not real? His greatest attraction seems to be to animals that cannot be seen, or perhaps more broadly to that which cannot be known about in nature and in the world. This thematic interest with trying to find and know the unknowable in The Snow Leopard appears and reappears in various parts of the text. Later in their journey, Matthiessen writes of an instance when he and GS encounter another traveler perplexed by Matthiessen’s presence in the region: “After a moment, looking up, he asked me a hard question of his own. He could understand why GS, as a biologist, would walk hundreds of miles over high mountains to collect wildlife data on the Tibetan Plateau. But why was I going? What did I hope to find?” (Matthiessen 1978, 125). The reader knows the obvious answer: Matthiessen is, in his own words, seeking a glimpse of the snow leopard, a motivation which he has shared with his companion and explicitly written to his audience, but in the moment of repeating this to a stranger in person, he finds himself unable to admit. “I shrugged uncomfortable. To say I was interested in blue sheep or snow leopards, or even in remote lamaseries, was no answer to his question, though all of that was true; to say I was making a pilgrimage seemed fatuous and vague, though in some sense that was true as well” (Matthiessen 1978, 126). And so, Matthiessen admits that he does not know why he is journeying, or at least says so to the person who has asked him.” I admitted that I did not know. How could I say that I wished to penetrate the secrets of the mountains in search of something still unknown that, like the yeti, might well be missed for the very fact of searching?” This is one of the first instances in the text when Matthiessen’s casts doubt on and hence complicates his quest. Later in the story, Matthiessen oscillates again toward his interest in the snow leopard, describing how, if necessary, GS will send Sherpas to buy an old goat as bait for the leopard, although this potential solution is not satisfying to Matthiessen because, although he longs to see it badly, to encounter the creature by the light of a camera or flashlight at night while crouched around bait would, in his mind, not really be a way of seeing it (Matthiessen 1978, 242). While Matthiessen and his friend remain intent on finding the


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leopard, so much so that they are planning to acquire another animal and sacrifice it in order to glimpse the leopard, there has been a delineation between the value of seeing leopard otherwise engaged in normal activities and one drawn out artificially. Matthiessen muses to himself that if the snow leopard “should manifest itself,” then he is ready to see the snow leopard, and if not, then he is not ready to “perceive” it. He reflects that he should feel disappointed by this, having traveled so far under difficult circumstances, and yet he does not feel that way at all. And he elaborates that while he is disappointed, he is also not in that the snow leopard “is.” It exists. And “that is enough” (Matthiessen 1978, 242). It watches him with its “frosty eyes” from the mountain, inverting the directionality of narrator-seeker and hence the power dynamic of wildlife-seeking. The travelogue reaches a clear climax when the author and GS arrive at the Crystal Monastery, a place of both spiritual power and the most likely area to encounter the snow leopard. Matthiessen describes the bizarre sound of the “damaru,” a prayer drum occasionally built with two human skulls, which he hears played, but then is not sure whether the sound has another origin, perhaps emanating from an echo of cavern water dripping into a copper canister. Under any circumstance, “the extraordinary sound brings the wild landscape to attention: somewhere on this mountainside the leopard listens” (Matthiessen 1978, 243). Matthiessen’s sensory realignment is significant here: he has been searching visually for the snow leopard, but now suddenly engages with the animal on an auditory level, displacing and disrupting his own quest to visually engage the animal. GS continues his work meanwhile, high on a ridge above Matthiessen, and when the author reaches his friend, GS says, “‘It followed me. . . . Turned up the valley just below the trip line, then over the ridge, not one hundred years from where I was lying, and down onto the path again— typical . . . I’ve lost the trail now, but that leopard is right here right this minute, watching us.’” The sheep are seemingly animated by this declaration, skittishly running as the wind whips over the two men, and Matthiessen notes that blue sheep do not run from people in that way even when they are purposefully driven (Matthiessen 1978, 244). The moment of perception is upon them, but Matthiessen and GS are unable to see the leopard, although they know the leopard is seeing them. This inversion breaks the visual engagement binary of wildlife–watching and more than that inverts it so the leopard becomes the subject, the empowered agent controlling the levels of engagement between the seeker and the sought: The snow leopard is a strong presence; its vertical pupils and small stilled breaths are no more than a snow cock’s glide away. GS murmurs, “Unless it moves, we are not going to see it, not even on the snow—these creatures are really something.” With our binoculars, we study the barren ridge face, foot by

“Have You Seen the Snow Leopard?”


foot. Then he says, “You know something? We’ve seen so much, maybe it’s better if there are some things that we don’t see.” He seems startled by his own remark, and I wonder if he means this as I take it—that we have been spared the desolation of success, the doubt: is this really what we came so far to see? (Matthiessen 1978, 244)

Not only does this passage upend the value system underlying The Snow Leopard, it undermines the entire hierarchy and narrative structure of the wildlife-finding subgenre of nature writing. The goal of taking these journeys and writing about them is discombobulated, but so too is our sensory orientation toward wildlife. Whereas the object had been to sense an animal by seeing, which was a couple pages prior replaced by sensing by sound, the author and his friend are now sensing in a sort of tactile-intuitive blend: they feel its presence even as they powerlessly fail to see the snow leopard, resulting in a distortion of their objectives and values. Matthiessen shortly after reflects: In its wholehearted acceptance of what is, this is just what SoenRoshi might have said: I feel as if he had struck me in the chest. I thank him, bow, go softly down the mountain: under my parka, the folded prayer flag glows. Butter tea and wind pictures, the Crystal Mountain, and blue sheep dancing on the snow—it’s quite enough! Have you seen the snow leopard? No! Isn’t that wonderful? (Matthiessen 1978, 246)

In this moment, Matthiessen uses a number of authorial techniques to confound his own objectives while also disrupting the literary objectification of wildlife as a consumable sighting. First, he finally and fully merges his two quests, Zen enlightenment, and wildlife observation, forcing them and their at odds objectives to confront. He also issues an exclamation, a rare and declarative interjection in not only his thoughts but his own and hence the reader’s journey. Finally, he follows with an interrogative, not ascribing to any single person or entity the question being asked. Who is asking who has seen the snow leopard? The Zen Buddhist master? Matthiessen himself? GS? The snow leopard? His readers? This disembodiment of the question resonates with his undermining of his journey and the lineage of environmental writing he is part of. He has brought us somewhere new and then changed the game. For himself, Matthiessen resolves that he will not only not be able to see the snow leopard, he will not perceive the snow leopard because he is not ready (Matthiessen 1978, 256). The surrendering of human agency of perception, or the acknowledgement that we never controlled it in the first place, displaces the standard sensory hierarchy that places humans on top and renders animals as mere subjects of interest without agency or autonomy.


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It’s not until near the end of the book when Matthiessen has perhaps his most memorable and thoroughly described wildlife encounter of the journey: Just ahead, where a stream brings light into the forest, the Sherpas point. In the water shimmer, treading the iced-green moss on a fallen fir, an unfrightened furred creature, the size of a wolverine, crosses the sun shafts. The Sherpas are gleeful, eager as two boys; I am grinning, too. The red panda—this one is lustrous red-and-black—must be the loveliest of all forest animals in the Himalaya; with the wild tracts of the Suli Gorge behind us, I had given up all hope of seeing it. And it makes me happy that the Sherpas take such pleasure in it; the panda has brought the first smile to Dawa’s face since the dancing party at Saldang (Matthiessen 1978, 306).

It’s notable that the red panda, which Matthiessen ranks as the “loveliest” of all the forest animals in the area, has barely been mentioned prior to this moment. Of all the fauna he has wished to encounter and taken care to share the natural history of, it strikes one as remarkable that the one he has ranked as the loveliest makes such minimal appearance in the story until the actual moment of its appearance in his journey, as opposed to other creatures which he devoted entire pages to describing the life histories of despite the poor chance of their being seen. Indeed, the party’s encounter with the red panda seems to occur only once Matthiessen had renounced any hope of seeing the animal. Matthiessen continues that the Sherpas were drawn together and made closer to one another by this rare experience and sighting, laughing and talking amongst themselves, when suddenly they all realize, somehow, that their lives together are almost at an end, as the last pass is now behind them and there remains only a day and a half of gradual descent into their destination, Jumla (Matthiessen 1978, 306). The red panda sighting somehow marks the end of their journey. This episode inverts the dynamic of the snow leopard, replacing the desire-unfulfillment relationship with a Zen-fulfillment one. Matthiessen’s acknowledgment, just a few pages before, that he would not see the snow leopard seems to open up possibilities for seeing and for the accompanying joy that such encounters bring him and his group. Even as the party prepares to disband, Matthiessen’s other object of desire becomes the subject of his and their attention a final time. Over dinner one night, the group discusses the yeti, and one member of the party, Dawa, giggles and expresses embarrassment over the subject, with one older Sherpa, Jang-bu, glaring at him, as the yeti is apparently not a topic of respectable conversation (Matthiessen 1978, 307). A third member of the party, Tukten, finally declares that he has indeed heard a yeti, and then dramatically imitates its call, a howling and wild yelp that reverberates through the night and echoes off canyon walls. Tukten then becomes silent and quietly stirs embers while Dawa stares at him, before Tukten again speaks, declaring that while he has never seen a

“Have You Seen the Snow Leopard?”


yeti, his intention is to turn around quickly at the moment he does and pretend that he has not because, while the yeti is not dangerous, it is bad luck to see it. Finally, Tukten glances up, looking at Matthiessen from across the fire, declaring that he believes the yeti is a Buddhist. Matthiessen asks if he means a holy man of some sort or a hermit with supernatural powers, to which Tukten shrugs and refuses to answer, and the subject of the yeti is soon closed not just for the night, but for the book. It is significant that this closing note for the yeti ends with Tukten’s bizarre declaration because it collapses these two parallel threads of Matthiessen’s journey onto each other, exposing and highlighting the sheer weirdness of them to the reader. Tukten, Matthiessen’s closest companion on the trip after GS and in a spiritual sense surpassing even GS, has revealed the yeti as the embodiment of Matthiessen’s core principles and goals. The yeti was precisely what he wanted the whole time, but not in the way he imagined, as he cannot see it, and even if he did, he should not look at it, as Tukten has warned. The discarded visual desire is supplanted by a fulfilled spiritual desire. But the spiritual desire of Buddhism is to discard desire, and so desiring the discarding of desire is in some sense an impossible quest, as impossible as finding animals that are never seen and may not exist. How does one navigate this intricate and seemingly impenetrable web of wanting to be in and know the world while wanting to know how not to want? Part of what Matthiessen has done in The Snow Leopard is to draw attention to the irresolvable nature of this conundrum. Books that chronicle quests to find and see wildlife around the world continue to grow in popularity, so much so that a new subgenre of nature writing has emerged which recreates previous wildlife-finding journeys from earlier eras. Just last year, Bruce Beehler published North on the Wing: Travels with the Songbird Migration of Spring, a travelogue that begins in Texas and goes as far north as Ontario as the author parallels the journey of migratory songbirds, itself a recreation of an earlier book by Edwin Way Teale, North with the Spring: A Naturalist’s Record of a 17,000-Mile Journey with the North American Spring (1951). Similarly, Scott Weidensaul’s Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent’s Natural Soul (2005) recreates Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher’s 1955 effort, Wild America: The Record of a 30,000 Mile Journey around the Continent by a Distinguished Naturalist and his British Colleague. All of these books are about seeking wildlife, mostly but not entirely birds, typically during a delineated amount of time and with the goal of seeing and identifying as many species as possible. What is the appeal of these books? Why are they so popular and numerous? Why have they developed such a devoted readership, to at least such an extent that recreations of the original journeys that have already been pub-


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lished are now reenacted and written about anew. The author of a recent book review of North on the Wing offers a perhaps insightful explanation: Reading as a birding enthusiast and photographer, I found that Beehler’s description of each stop along the birds’ (and his) migratory pathway made me want to pack my gear and get outside. How many others will feel that way? Books like this can bring more people, younger, energetic people, into the fold and help them forge a stronger connection to nature and its preservation (Sorkin 2018, par. 9).

The idea seems to be that these journeys were inspirational to a generation, and that now the metaphorical torch must be passed to a new generation. The technique Sanford Sorkin is describing has been remarked upon by ecocritics, such as Lawrence Buell in his The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. What’s good and useful about classic works of American nature writing like Walden, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and others, Buell contends, is that they are a kind of literary mimesis, a reproduction of the non-human world and nature that is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, which draws us, ideally, closer to it, and brings us a step closer to being able to heal our current environmental crisis, which is at its core a crisis of imagination, as Buell argues. But another ecocritic, Dana Phillips, has in his The Truth of Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature in America said: [W]hy environmental literature should be deputized to make the presence and reality of the natural world available to us by proxy, when that world lies waiting to be explored by bookworms and bold adventurers alike, is a question insufficiently mooted in The Environmental Imagination, and in ecocriticism generally speaking. Devoting our time and energy to the perusal of environmental literature would seem to be a roundabout way for us to secure a bond with the earth: it’s as if we should spend our time poring over the personal ads, instead of striking up a conversation with the lonely heart next door (Phillips 2003, 7).

Do we really need mimesis to appreciate nature? Can’t we just go outside and appreciate the world and its wildlife that way? Do we need books to orient us toward finding and identifying wildlife, and travelogues like North on the Wing and countless others to tell us stories about how to do it? The Snow Leopard disrupts the narrative of these journeys: Matthiessen not only breaks with his desire to see the snow leopard, he delights in not seeing it. The relinquishment of the yearning to establish dominion over animals through visual engagement decenters the linear hierarchy of humans above other beings in the environment, fracturing the entire narratological structure of wildlife travelogues. Wildlife advocates will defend the agency and competence of wildlife, but the craving of encounters with wildlife

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undercuts that very agency and competence. Perhaps more than anything, Matthiessen has drawn attention to the impossibility of reconciling wildlife yearning with wildlife itself. REFERENCES Audubon, John J. 2012. The Birds of America. New York: Sterling. Beehler, Bruce. 2018. North on the Wing: Travels with the Songbird Migration of Spring. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books. Buell, Lawrence. 1993. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Catesby, Mark. 2010. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands . . . Volume 1 of 2. London: Eighteenth Century Collections Online Print Editions. ———. 2010. The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands . . . Volume 2 of 2. London: Eighteenth Century Collections Online Print Editions. Lippit, Akira M. 2000. Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Martin, Jennifer A. 2011. “When Sharks (Don’t) Attack: Wild Animal Agency in Historical Narratives.” Environmental History 16, no. 3 (July): 451–55. Matthiessen, Peter. 1978. The Snow Leopard. New York: Penguin Books. ———. 1995. Wildlife in America. New York: Penguin Books. Peterson, Roger T., and James Fisher. 1955. Wild America. New York: Weathervane Books. Philippon, Daniel J. 2005. Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Phillips, Dana. 2003. The Truth of Ecology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Powell, Alvin. 2008. The Race to Save the World’s Rarest Bird: The Discovery and Death of the Po’ouli. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. Schaffner, Spencer. 2011. Binocular Vision: The Politics of Representation in Birdwatching Field Guides. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Sorkin, Sanford. 2018. “A Sense of Loss, and Some Hope for the Future.” Review of North on the Wing: Travels with the Songbird Migration of Spring, by Bruce M. Beehler.” Birding (February). Teale, Edwin W. 1951. North with the Spring: A Naturalist’s Record of a 17,000 Mile Journey with the North American Spring. New York: Dodd, Mead. Weidensaul, Scott. 2006. Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent’s Natural Soul. New York: North Point Press. Wilson, Alexander. 2015. American Ornithology. New York: Andesite Press.

Chapter Three

“With One Arm I Supported Her: The Other Arm Was the Executioner’s” An Ecofeminist Reading of Anna Kavan’s Ice Laura de la Parra

REASSESSING ANNA KAVAN’S ICE Anna Kavan (1901–1968) achieved literary fame the year before her death when her novel Ice was awarded the prestigious Brian Aldiss Science Fiction Prize in 1967. Kavan never really identified Ice as science fiction, but instead claimed, as her current publisher Peter Owen recalls: “That’s the way I see the world now” (2001, 2). Aldiss himself later agreed that Ice is not solely science fiction (Callard 1992, 142), and the novel has been later classified as “literary slipstream” (Priest 2006, 1), a kind of “difficult” science fiction. Whether science fiction or not, the truth is that Kavan’s writing does not resemble much that of her generation—and this is something that she was highly aware of: in her Horizon article “Back to Victoria” (1946), she referred to her contemporaries as “the New Victorians” (1946, 61). Kavan’s work, which merges late Modernist concerns about questions of time, space, and the nation with experimentalist 1960s trends, was disregarded during her lifetime. She fell into critical oblivion shortly after her death, and her books currently remain in print thanks to the independent British publisher Peter Owen. 1 The scarcity of archival information about Anna Kavan and her mysterious persona—she was an addict throughout her life; abandoned her first child; divorced twice; and she changed her name to that of the protagonists of one of her home counties novels after undergoing psychiatric treatment in a Swiss asylum—has led critics to search for biographical cues in her fiction. 37


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Thus, Janet Byrne (1982) discusses the science fiction techniques employed in Ice as personifying the destruction of the self. Although Byrne does identify the “war of identity” (1982, 6) taking place among the three main characters, she conflates the “mental landscapes” (1982, 8) atypically presented in the novel with Kavan’s troubled mental state at the time, and identifies the “ice” in the narrative as a metaphor for Kavan’s lifelong addiction to heroin. Gregory Stephenson (2001) also points to the novel’s science fiction landscapes as inward psychic states, linking the world’s disintegration with the inner fight for attaining the greater good of the male protagonist. Stephenson also reads the ending as an expression of the happy triumph of romantic love with the girl and the narrator reunited (2001, 25), disregarding the physical and psychological abuse that the protagonist exerts on the girl. In this chapter, I will argue that Ice, Anna Kavan’s final novel, is a devastating portrayal of a world torn apart by nuclear power, capitalism, and patriarchal ambition. This destruction is conveyed through the fraught and abusive relationship of the protagonist and the girl, as readings such as Cécile Magot’s (2016) or Leigh Wilson’s (2017) also claim. The dystopic reality presented in Ice, a barren, freezing planet Earth after a nuclear disaster, also lends itself to be viewed under an ecocritical lens. Orpana (2019) has read Ice as exemplifying the twenty-first-century crisis of petrol, while Victoria Nelson (1997) calls it a “southern pole romance.” Though I wish to consider the material element of a representation where nature is bestowed with agency, I will do so from a gender lens, drawing from recent material feminist accounts of the body and the environment 2 as well as from approaches to representations of heteronormative romantic love and happy endings. Kavan’s Ice subverts narrative expectations about renewal and love in a world riddled with both material and symbolic violence. 3 MATERIAL FEMINISMS AND THE QUESTION OF THE BODY Recent feminist critics have claimed for a return to material and bodily experiences and practices, understanding the body not only as the human body but as “the concrete entanglements of plural ‘natures,’ in both human and more-than-human realms” (Iovino and Oppermann 2012, 76). So-called material feminism emerges as a response to the linguistic turn in the humanities, in order to recover the “materiality of natures and bodies” that seemed to have been “lost” in discourse (Iovino and Oppermann 2012, 76). These issues could be explored, according to Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann, by posing the following questions: How do we define the field of our experience of material natures? And, secondly, how do we correlate discursive practices (in the form of political categories, socio-linguistic constructions, cultural representations, etc.) with the

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materiality of ecological relationships? On what ground is it possible to connect these two levels—the material and the discursive—in a non-dualistic system of thought? (2012, 76).

In this sense, material feminism aims to recover an account of matter as such, notwithstanding essentialist associations between women and nature, which had previously directed criticism toward ecofeminism in the 1990s. 4 However, as Sara Ahmed affirms, the problem lies in the “presumption that biology is fixed or decided” (2008, 28), in using biology to justify a given structure of oppression without considering how nature and culture influence and alter each other. Hence material feminists rather establish this connection between women and nature on the basis that both nature and women’s bodies are exploited for the profit of capitalism and patriarchy, by means of establishing clear-cut binaries such as male/female, culture/nature, or body/soul, which are, furthermore, hierarchical and used to justify domination in Western thought (Casselot 2016, 78–79; Eaton and Lorentzen 2013, 2). Thus, material feminism and ecocriticism aim to think beyond these dualistic divides and acknowledge the “importance of bodies in situating empirical actors within a material environment of nature, other bodies, and socioeconomic structures” (Coole and Frost quoted in Casselot 2016, 82). As Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi affirm, capitalism relies on the exploitation of women’s and nature’s resources both for social and economic reproduction, which capitalism “assume[s] to be infinite,” costless and hence, “natural,” as both sources fulfill the condition to replenish themselves (2018, pos. 101 par. 1). Thereby capitalism “institutionalize[s] an ecological contradiction: capital simultaneously relies on and tends to destabilize its own ‘natural’ conditions of possibility” (2018, 105 par. 2), exhausting and altering its sources of profit to the point of depleting them—thus threatening with the collapse of the system. According to ecocritics, we are now living in the Anthropocene, the geological era where humans have been impacting the material development of the Earth (Pereira Savi 2017, 945). 5 However, material feminisms are not only concerned with how bodies and matter are exploited by patriarchal capitalism, but also with how these oppressions affect and reinforce each other: for instance, Eaton and Lorentzen affirm that “environmental problems disproportionately affect women in most parts of the world” (2013, 2). In short, how matter shapes bodies, and bodies shape matter—what Karen Barad has termed “iterative intra-activity” (2003, 822), going a step further from Butler’s performativity as “iterative citationality” (1993). Thus, in her essay “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter” (2003), Barad calls upon the reconsideration that “materiality is an active factor in processes of materialization. Nature is neither a passive surface awaiting the mark of culture nor the end product of cultural performances” (2003, 827). Departing from a background in quantum phys-


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ics, Barad provocatively aims to explain how materiality accounts for discursive and socio–cultural changes insofar as it enacts, reflects and takes part in them. Further, Barad posits these “material–discursive” practices—what she terms “phenomena”—as constructive of ontologies in its reconfiguring of matter and therefore of the world, including bodies. Bodies, insofar as they constitute matter, are intertwined with discourse, politics and the economy: “All bodies, not merely ‘human’ bodies, come to matter through the world’s iterative intra-activity—its performativity” (Barad 2003, 823). Thus, through these interactions with discourse, bodies can function as point of departure to rethink abusive practices that are taken for granted under essentialist modes of thinking. As Elizabeth Grosz affirms, bodies are “uncontainable in physicalist terms alone. If bodies are objects or things, they are like no others for they are the centers of perspective, insight, reflection, desire, agency” (Grosz 1994, xi). Therefore, bodies interact, enact and reflect material conditions of the world, while they can also become agents for transformation. I shall now analyze how Kavan’s Ice brings forth a representation of bodies which are shaped by the extreme conditions they inhabit—a frozen Earth after a disaster produced by man—and how the failed narrative of romantic love denounces unethical relations between genders, bodies, and nature, also allowing to foster possibilities for change. LOVE AT THE WORLD’S END According to David Callard, one of Kavan’s main biographers, [t]he prevailing scenario of apocalypse during the early sixties was that of nuclear destruction, and it is suggested that this was the cause of the catastrophe . . . Yet the precise nature of the apocalypse is never clearly drawn by Anna Kavan: it is as if she realized that nuclear terrors might one day be superseded by other nightmares of mass destruction (1992, 140).

Ice is set in a not-so-far future where a nuclear disaster has returned the Earth to a new ice age. Ice thus functions both as a metaphor for the result of destruction but also as a defensive tool from human damage. In the midst of this dystopic setting, a terrible war keeps going on, accompanied by the ravaging and burning down of cities, detention camps, and man–provoked death and destruction raiding the world. Polarised gender relations prevail and are growing even sharper in the catastrophe. Ice’s protagonist and narrator is an officer who, throughout the narrative, keeps chasing a girl, a former love of his with whom “[he] had been infatuated . . . at one time, had intended to marry her” (Kavan 2006, 8). The girl, nameless like all the characters in the story, is now married to a man sometimes described as “the painter,” “a dilettante,” sometimes as “the warden”—

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thus at times seen by the narrator as her captor, but also her protector—as identities constantly shift in the confusing train of events that disconcert the narrator himself. As he discloses early in the narrative, the narrator has been traumatized, not by the chaotic state of the world, but rather because of the girl leaving him to marry the warden. He imagines avenging his wounded pride and masculinity by hurting the girl: “the consequences of the traumatic experience were still evident in the insomnia and headaches which I suffered. The drugs prescribed for me produced horrible dreams, in which she always appeared as a helpless victim, her fragile body broken and bruised” (Kavan 2006, 8). This scene provides the key to understand the narrative, part-dream, part-reality, where the plot advances motivated by his endless chasing of the girl, only to find her sometimes dead or violently brutalized, then discovering that he has dreamt or fantasized about it all, and re–starting the chase again. The narrative begins when the protagonist intends to pay a visit to the girl and her new husband, although the aim of his trip originally was “investigat[ing] rumours of a mysterious impending emergency in this part of the world” (Kavan 2006, 6). He, however, finds himself in the midst of a terrible blizzard, uncommon at that time of the year, and, as the narrator describes it, “ominous” (Kavan 2006, 5). He, in fact, forgets about the purpose of his journey and obsesses about finding the girl, even if he “[himself] did not understand [his] compulsion to see this girl” (Kavan 2006, 6). While he contemplates the freezing disaster around himself in the abandoned, “wrecked” countryside, memories of their past relationship are triggered: “Ironically, [his] aim then had been to shield her from the callousness of the world, which her timidity and her fragility seemed to invite” (Kavan 2006, 8). Thus, from the very start, a relationship of victimizing, paternalism, and victim-blaming is established between the narrator and the girl. The parallel between his role as a lover and his role as an officer in the army, whose aim is to protect but who has proven to bring nothing but destruction to the world, is evident. The girl is also described as “traumatized,” but in this case, the narrator points out to her gender-conditioning since childhood, for the adult girl, now presents character traits such as obedience, dependence, and submission: “She had been conditioned into obedience since early childhood, her independence destroyed by systematic suppression” (Kavan 2006, 17). Since we barely get to hear the girl’s voice, the only thing we have left to understand her are the minimal traces that she leaves in her escape, and the way that the narrator tries to submit her to his wishes, as well as the few complaints and refusals she articulates against her prosecutors: “Don’t! Leave me alone! I hate you!” (Kavan 2006, 76). As Céline Magot argues, “[t]he narrator becomes the author of the girl, a figure of authority that constructs her as a palimpsest, hence reifies her. She, in turn, is not allowed her own voice. She is covered with layers of words but her own words are lost” (2016, 4). His


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authorship begins by the most material of forms: in the description and management of the girl’s body. The girl embodies the perfect ideal of femininity, even to an extreme: she is an albino, a rare, ethereal creature of light who is often described in a fetishizing, commodifying way: by “segmenting the female body into ideal erotic parts and presuming that their sum would produce an erotically pleasing totality” (Berlant 2008, 252). As Lauren Berlant contends, this is “a version of femininity that is both utopian and ordinary” (2008, 252), because it is an inextricable part of discourses of romantic love. In this sense, the protagonist decides to chase the girl when she flees her marriage, suspecting she was not “capable of taking such a drastic step on her own initiative” (2006, 17), and thus deeming the feat of her salvation necessary. In the description of the girl, the narrator also points out an early, subject–formation experience with which he will justify his later thought that “[s]omething in her demanded victimization and terror” (Kavan 2006, 73): She was over-sensitive, highly strung, afraid of people and life; her personality had been damaged by a sadistic mother who kept her in a permanent state of frightened subjection . . . She was so thin that, when we danced, I was afraid of hurting her if I held her tightly. Her prominent bones seemed brittle, the protruding wrist-bones had a particular fascination for me. Her hair was astonishing, silver-white, an albino’s sparkling like moonlight, like moonlit venetian glass. I treated her like a glass girl; at times she hardly seemed real (Kavan 2006, 8).

The narrator is not only fascinated by the girl’s body, which complies with ideals of femininity to an extreme—the girl is fragile, sensitive, and dramatically thin—but also with the potential to hurt her and submit her to his will, which he projects directly into these qualities. The girl is devoid of subjectivity, turned into an object by the narrator: she is reduced to the materiality of her body: “It was clear that [the warden] regarded her as his property. I considered that she belonged to me” (Kavan 2006, 76). In one of the many instances in which the narrator justifies violent behavior toward her, we are told that “[h]er face wore its victim’s look, which was of course psychological, the result of injuries she had received in childhood” (Kavan 2006, 16). The fact that she “wears” a victim’s look appears as though it were optional or willing, as if she herself had chosen to be a victim. But, as Elizabeth Grosz claims in Volatile Bodies, bodies are not only inscribed, marked, engraved, by social pressures external to them but are the products, the direct effects, of the very social constitution of nature itself. It is not simply that the body is represented in a variety of ways according to historical, social, and cultural exigencies while it remains basically the same; these factors actively produce the body as a body of a determinate type (1994, x).

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Thus, bodies are actively produced, in their materialization, by both outward and inward forces. In fact, matter exists and transforms itself within its historicity, as Barad affirms (2003, 818). The narrator, through his representation of the girl’s abused body, aims to impose a specific discourse on it, to dominate it, just as he intends to fight against the climatic change overtaking the world. In her essay “The Rhetorics of Property: Exploration, Inventory, Blazon” (1987), Patricia Parker shows how the representation of women’s bodies through their separate parts is closely linked with their possession and the possession of the land. As Magot notes (2016, 3), the text gives us several clues to identify the girl’s body with the territory that is being fought for: “her hair shimmering violet like the shadows of trees on snow” (Kavan 2006, 136), “snow had fallen between her breasts” (Kavan 2006, 56). The text thus renders a parallel between the war over power and control for the land, resources, and fuel, and the battleground for patriarchal control that her body has turned into, a fate that she eventually accepts, according to the narrator: “[a]s her fate, she accepted the world of ice, shining, shimmering, dead; she resigned herself to the triumph of glaciers and the death of her world” (Kavan 2006, 21). However, in the narrative, the more the girl appears as a nonperson, the more fiercely nature attacks humans. As a sort of revenge, the ice also begins to engulf the girl, as though the two were merging, avenging their exploitation: She was completely encircled by the tremendous ice walls, which were made fluid by explosions of blinding light, so that they moved and changed with a continuous liquid motion, advancing in torrents of ice, avalanches as big as oceans, flooding everywhere over the doomed world. Wherever she looked, she saw the same fearful encirclement, soaring battlements of ice, an overhanging ring of frigid, fiery, colossal waves about to collapse upon her. Frozen by the deathly cold emanating from the ice, dazzled by the blaze of crystalline ice-light, she felt herself becoming part of the polar vision, her structure becoming one with the structure of ice and snow (Kavan 2006, 21).

Her isolation from the world through ice may be a way to protect herself from fear: “Fear,” we are told, “was the climate she lived in; if she had ever known kindness it would have been different” (Kavan 2006, 49). Significantly, this climate of fear begins to spread, and nature gains a sort of human agency in the narrator’s account, while the girl appears more and more brutalized: “Her head hung over the edge of the bed in a slightly unnatural position, the neck slightly twisted in a way that suggested violence, the bright hair twisted into a sort of rope by his hands. He sat with his hand upon her, asserting his right to his prey” (Kavan 2006, 37). The narrator then realizes that his has been a fantasy and that the girl has escaped again: the protagonist fantasizes with the warden hurting the girl, only to then add “I felt I had been defrauded: I alone should have done the breaking with tender love; I was the


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only person entitled to inflict wounds” (Kavan 2006, 54; my emphasis). Ice then can be read as a tale about gender violence, and the violence that the discourse of romantic love inflicts upon bodies. As Magot claims, “[t]he novel rewrites archetypal texts to show how eroticised bodies are raped and assaulted, how idealised bodies are reified” (2016, 9). Both the girl and the narrator struggle to fit ideal gender standards. This leads to violence and destruction of their bodies and, eventually, of the Earth, which acts as a mirror of their own self–destruction. Indeed, the narrator identifies with his rival, the warden, against whom he competes for the possession of the girl: “His voice was friendly, he spoke to me as an equal, and just for a moment, I felt identified with him in an obscure sort of intimacy” (Kavan 2006, 95). As Byrne claims, “[t]he narrator and the warden wage a psychological ‘war’ of identity” (Byrne 1982, 6). The body of the warden represents an ideal of masculinity that the narrator aspires to achieve: In his splendid uniform he strolled beside me in beautifully kept gardens, attended by armed guards in black and gold. I was proud to be with him. He was a fine-looking man who kept himself in every way at the height of his powers, all his muscles exercised like an athlete’s, his intellect and his senses deliberately sharpened. He radiated tremendous dominance, besides an intense physical vitality, zest for living. His aura of power and success seemed to fill the surrounding air and even extend to me (Kavan 2006, 131).

Hence the girl becomes the ultimate prize in the competition between the narrator and the warden—whose unattainable power and virility he is jealous of—for the narrator’s wish is to replace him. “Everything else in the world,” for the narrator, “seemed immaterial” (Kavan 2006, 25) despite the climate crisis that the world is undergoing. What is at stake is the possession of the girl, who, at one point, identifies them as the same person: “Looking from one of us to the other, she accused: ‘You’re in league together.’” (Kavan 2006, 95). The possession of the girl becomes the prize and emblem of ideal masculinity. However, his obsession for her becomes identified as a flaw in himself, as something that will replace a character trait that he is missing: “[w]hat I considered that imperative need I felt for her, as for a missing part of myself, it appeared less like love than an inexplicable aberration, the sign of some character-flaw I ought to eradicate, instead of letting it dominate me” (Kavan 2006, 24; my emphasis). Even if at times he appears to want to protect her from the storm, he cannot and will not show these feelings. In the context of an ongoing war, the narrator feels that his already-damaged masculinity is on trial by his master in the army: “I was sick of war, sick of serving this difficult, dangerous master who loved war and killing and nothing else. There was a kind of insanity in his war-making. Conquest was not enough. He wanted a war of extermination, all enemies slaughtered without

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exception, nobody left alive” (Kavan 2006, 63). The protagonist, thus, also adapts himself to fit into discourses of power. As Karen Barad affirms, in a performative sense, discourse conforms matter: Discourse is not a synonym for language. Discourse does not refer to linguistic or signifying systems, grammars, speech acts, or conversations. To think of discourse as mere spoken or written words forming descriptive statements is to enact the mistake of representationalist thinking. Discourse is not what is said; it is that which constrains and enables what can be said. Discursive practices define what counts as meaningful statements (2003, 819).

In other words, discourse defines what can and cannot be said, thought or materialized. Therefore, the splitting of the protagonist’s mind exemplifies the constraints of patriarchal discourse, which is even embodied: “With one arm I supported her: the other arm was the executioner’s” (Kavan 2006, 113; my emphasis). The policing, control, and exploitation of the girl’s body go hand in hand with his expression of need and possession, at once expressed as both love and power. This call for violence, which he expresses as a sort of obligation, exists in contrast with an alternative way of acting, as his different fantasies and hallucinations enact. These fantasies and dreams range from violence to “this other [world], new, infinitely alive, and of boundless potential” (Kavan 2006, 124). Despite knowing that the world is coming to an end, the narrator is “committed to violence and must keep to [his] pattern” (Kavan 2006, 124); he chooses not to deviate from the hegemonic discourse, as he identifies himself as “part of all that, irrevocably involved with events and persons upon this planet” (Kavan 2006, 124). The surrender of the girl finally brings about the discovery of tenderness in the narrator, in what would seem like a typical turn in a romance plot. Yet he will not reveal it to her: “She could not know that I had just discovered a new pleasure in tenderness” (Kavan 2006, 157). The ending could read at first glance as a reconciliatory happy reencounter between two lovers who overcome their differences and survive the (man–caused) nuclear catastrophe and war: “Driving the big car through the glacial night I was almost happy. I did not regret that other world I had longed for and lost. My world was now ending in snow and ice, there was nothing else left. Human life was over. [. . .] I felt exhilarated because we two were alive, racing through the blizzard together” (Kavan 2006, 157). However, as the narrator points out, “human life was over,” and they are safe as long as fuel does not run out and they die of hypothermia. Pretending they can escape, he keeps a gun in his pocket, whose weight he describes as “reassuring” (Kavan 2006, 158). As we can see, the last words of the novel point toward the end of their lives, a death of feeling and of fear, as the girl presents “no fear, no sadness now. She smiled and pressed close, content with me in our home” (Kavan 2006, 158); the extinction of human feeling preludes the extinction of anything human. The


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inevitable future of the end of human life as an end to abusive power relations over nature and human bodies seems like the only solution to afford, in Barad’s words, a different becoming of matter where “marks on bodies” are held accountable (2003, 824), and a new materialization, coming after the impending ice age, transforms power relations, and life, whether human or not. CONCLUSION: UNRAVELING PATRIARCHAL THINKING The ending of Ice successfully disrupts narratological expectations for a happy ending with the fulfillment of romantic love. 6 Even if the couple is finally reunited—and hence the protagonist fulfills his quest—this reunion is presented in a bleak and hopeless manner, with the added menace of their survival solely depending upon fuel—and hence natural resources—not running out so that the car keeps going and does not freeze. However, this temporary salvation is presented in the text as less than ideal, selfish, and facilitated by violence. In a way, the denial of the narrative fulfillment of romance and the reading of the landscape’s freezing of itself as a protective—and even restorative—measure, also suggests the possibility for a rebirth of matter, under different conditions, in a different world where power relations and violence are eradicated. Furthermore, as we have seen, the narrator’s misleading representations of patriarchal violence, confusing even to himself, set the grounds for the questioning of this way of acting, which leads to narrator to even doubt his own identity. As Leigh Wilson affirms, through the repetition of violence onto the girl’s body in a fantastic, dream-like mode, Kavan’s novel “shows the extent to which such violence is the result of patriarchal thinking, rather than just being ‘splinters of fact’” (2017, 341). Kavan’s contesting of patriarchal and capitalist discourse shows that different ways of imagining the materialization of the world, even if they are not fully carried out, are possible. Further, the different paths offered in the protagonist’s fantasies and the way that they are presented as neither dream nor reality even to the narrator prompt the reader to believe that even if he does not choose to act upon them, other possibilities can be carried out. He affirms, in a melancholic tone: “The dream, the hallucination, or whatever it was, had a powerful effect on me afterwards. . . . I was left with a sense of emptiness, loss, as if something precious really had been in my grasp, and I had through it away” (Kavan 2006, 124). Although he later resorts to violence, the dream spells an alternative discourse, which could be carried out in a system without violence and oppression. We thus may find that Ice disrupts hegemonic discursive practices about nuclear and sexual politics by rendering them illegible or confusing at the

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very least, enacting through writing how matter comes to matter—in both senses of the word—and proving it possible for matter to answer back. If, following Barad, “the universe is agential intra–activity in its becoming” (2003, 818), then discourses, practices and matter, as Kavan’s Ice shows, may be altered, challenged, and restarted again after opening up the possibilities for new agentic material-discourses, and practices, to take place. A renewal of human life, as the world is known, proves impossible at the end of the narrative, but further possibilities for dismantling patriarchal thought are subtly pointed out in Kavan’s Ice, which otherwise foresees a terrible end to both human and non-human nature if material practices and discourses are not altered. NOTES 1. Penguin Random House published a new edition of Ice both in the UK and the US in 2017 to celebrate the novel’s fiftieth anniversary, which attained some, if little, critical attention. 2. I use the term “symbolic violence” here following Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic power as a form of socio-cultural domination, presented in a way that is apparently neutral and even unconscious (2003 [1998]). 3. On the development of material feminisms, see for instance Alaimo and Hekman (2008). 4. See Greta Gaard, 2011, “Ecofeminism Revisited: Rejecting Essentialism and Re-Placing Species in a Material Feminist Environmentalism,” Feminist Formations 23 (2): 26–53, for an account of the history of ecofeminism, its criticism and its valuable contributions to presentday ecocritical and ecofeminist theory. 5. Critical theorists have pointed out the inaccuracy of the term, since the real impact has been capital, not man. See for instance Haraway (2015) or Fraser and Jaeggi (2018), who propose the term “Capitalocene” instead. 6. On the expectation and reification of romantic love in middle-brow domestic fiction, see Berlant (2008). According to Berlant, while many women’s narratives criticize gender oppression, popular fiction ends up offering a happy ending, thus veiling or cushioning said criticism. The flaunting of narratological expectations, then, affords a political, transformative potential.

REFERENCES Ahmed, Sara. 2008. “Open Forum Imaginary Prohibitions: Some Preliminary Remarks on the Founding Gestures of the ‘New Materialism.’” European Journal of Women’s Studies 15 (1): 23–39. Alaimo, Stacy and Hekman, Susan, eds. 2008. Material Feminisms. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Barad, Karen. 2003. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward and Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28 (3): 801–831. Berlant, Lauren. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Bourdieu, Pierre. 2003. Masculine Domination. Translated by Richard Nice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. London and New York: Routledge. Byrne, Janet. 1982. “Moving toward Entropy: Anna Kavan’s Science Fiction Mentality.” Extrapolation 23 (1): 5–11.


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Callard, David. 1992. The Case of Anna Kavan: A Biography. London: Peter Owen. Casselot, Marie-Anne. 2016. “Ecofeminist Echoes in New Materialism?” PhœnEx 11 (1): 73–96. Eaton, Heather and Lois Ann Lorentzen. 2013. “Introduction.” In Ecofeminism and Globalization: Exploring Culture, Context, and Religion, edited by Heather Eaton and Lois Ann Lorentzen, 1–11. Lanham, MD: The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. Fraser, Nancy, and Rahel Jaeggi. 2018. Capitalism: A Conversation. Cambridge: Polity. Kindle edition. Grosz, Elizabeth. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Haraway, Donna. 2015. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationcene, Cthulecene: Making Kin.” Environmental Humanities 6: 159–165. Iovino, Serenella and Serpil Oppermann. 2012. “Material Ecocriticism: Materiality, Agency and Models of Narrativity.” Ecozon@ 3 (1): 75–91. Kavan, Anna. 1946. “Back to Victoria.” Horizon XIII (3):61–66. ———. Ice. 2006. London: Peter Owen. Magot. Céline. 2016. “The Palimpsest Girl in Ice by Anna Kavan.” Miranda 12: 1–13. http:// miranda.revues.org/8675. Nelson, Victoria. 1997. “Symmes Hole, or the South Pole Romance.” Raritan 17 (2): 136–166. Orpana, Simon Andre. 2019. “The Prism of Petrol: Drive, Desire and the Energy Unconscious in Anna Kavan’s Ice.” Inscriptions 2 (1). http://www.tankebanen.no/inscriptions/index.php/ inscriptions/article/view/inscriptions. 27. Owen, Peter. 2001. “Prefatory Note.” Asylum Piece by Anna Kavan, 1–4. London: Peter Owen. Parker, Patricia. 1987. “Rhetorics of Property: Exploration, Inventory, Blazon.” Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetorics, Gender, Property, 126–154. London: Routledge. Pereira Savi, Melina. 2017. “The Anthropocene (and) (in) the Humanities: Possibilities for Literary Studies.” Estudos Feministas 25 (2): 945–959. Priest, Christopher. 2006. “Foreword.” In Ice by Anna Kavan, 1–6. London: Peter Owen. Stephenson, Gregory. 2001. “An Inward Ice-Age: A Reading of Anna Kavan’s Ice.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 40 (113): 20–28. Wilson, Leigh. 2017. “Anna Kavan’s Ice and Alan Burns’ Europe After the Rain: Repetition with a Difference.” Women: A Cultural Review 28 (4): 327–342.

Chapter Four

“We Were Neither What We Had Been nor What We Would Become” Frankensteinian Science and Liminal States in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation Jessica Roberts

This chapter discusses the interlocations of science, nature, and human identity in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014). 1 The novel disrupts the boundaries between human and biota, drawing on tropes from fin de siècle science fiction and examples from nature to explore themes of identity, hybridity, and liminal states. This chapter also reads the novel in the context of Romantic literature and concerns, focusing on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, as an early example of a text that is “about” science, drawing parallels between the ways in which science and nature are constructed as concepts in the two texts. Finally, I examine the relationships and distinctions between VanderMeer’s ecoGothic and the Romantic sublime. In the opening of Annihilation, a team of scientists enter the mysterious Area X, which is a dangerous wilderness. They are a Biologist, Psychologist, Surveyor, and an Anthropologist (the reader finds out that a Linguist was also appointed, but withdrew before the mission began). The Psychologist has an element of hypnotic control over the rest of the team. They are the twelfth expedition, and at the start of the novel, the reader is not aware of what happened to the previous iterations. None of the scientists have names and are only identified by their role in the expedition. 2 They have effectively already been dehumanized ahead of their entry to Area X, a theme that becomes apparent later in the text. The text is written in the first person, from the point of view of the Biologist. Like Frankenstein and many other Gothic texts, it is epistolary in 49


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form: we are reading the field notes the Biologist has been asked to make during the expedition. It is also a circular narrative. Each team enters the Area and makes similar discoveries with minor differences to the outcome. In fact, the Biologist’s husband was part of an earlier expedition, and while he returned, he seemed absent and disconnected from the world outside Area X. Later, the reader discovers that they are part of the next team on the following expedition. Although the text does not explain how Area X was created, nature has forcibly taken control of the environment, a concept that is also explored in Frankenstein. Anne Mellor describes Frankenstein as a dramatized conflict between “scientific research which attempts to describe accurately the functionings of the physical universe and that which attempts to control or change the universe through human intervention” (Mellor 1988, 90). This quotation establishes a binary that is useful in this discussion of Annihilation. Mellor’s conception defines science alternatively as a lens through which to view nature, or a tool via which to alter nature. Mellor is also, therefore, positing that human culture (including the concept of “science”) is separate from nature (or the physical universe). This chapter asserts that Annihilation rejects Frankensteinian science, that is, science with the power to classify or control nature, and interrogates the idea that humanity, culture, and science, are fundamentally something different or separate from nature. While Frankenstein highlights the danger of science that attempts to control or change nature, Annihilation presents a world that not only rejects the idea that science can even describe nature, but, in fact, is a world where nature has the power to analyze, control, and change humankind. The scientists in Annihilation are not tasked with attempting to control or change the monstrous landscape. They are there for reconnaissance: to take notes, gather samples, and in Mellor’s terms “describe accurately the functionings” of Area X. However, they are ineffective. The geography of the area confounds the Surveyor as the land moves between marsh, woods, and other environments in a seemingly impossible way; there is no human life to study, so there is no need for the Anthropologist; the effect of Area X breaks hypnotic control, so the Psychologist is redundant. Only the Biologist is potentially effective as she begins to “read” the land. Here, the book does establish this dichotomy of science and nature, giving science an active role in trying to “read” nature, and nature—in this case, the landscape—having a passive, yielding role. This is reminiscent of Victor Frankenstein’s desire to penetrate the secrets of nature and “pursue her to her hiding places,” but Annihilation later deconstructs this idea. In fact, the Biologist is convinced that the cells in the samples she takes change when observed, or that they are only mimicking normal cells, actively and conscious-

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ly resisting being “read.” Instead the land “reads” the humans sent in to observe it. On entering Area X, the team finds a deep vertical tunnel in the ground, but the Biologist describes it throughout as a Tower. As a counterpoint to the Tower, they also find a lighthouse in which there are piles of journals left by previous research expeditions. The Tower is made of biological material, while a lighthouse is a human construction. The walls of the Tower are covered in writing that is made out of bioluminescent plants: the writing is legible to the scientists, but the words themselves are nonsense. In both literature and science, language has long been characterized as one of the key ways in which humankind separates itself from other forms of life. 3 Frankenstein’s creature becomes more human as it acquires language by watching people interact. Via language, it is able to name and express emotions. In Annihilation the land has similarly acquired language, we assume through “reading” its previous human invaders. These words however, resist being “read.” They begin: Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that . . . gather in the darkness and surround the world with the power of their lives while from the dimlit halls of other places forms that never were and never could be writhe for the impatience of the few who never saw what could have been (VanderMeer 2014, 46–47).

The nouns here have religious connotations, and a theme of darkness and light emerges from the adjectives. This theme is echoed in the narrative: the lighthouse is a beacon, while a Tower is a place of darkness, excepting the bioluminescent plants. With punctuation added, the text could be grammatically correct, but it is still very difficult for the reader to interpret. The text at least sounds like a reasonable imitation of human language: as mentioned, it is religious in tone (“fruit,” “sinner”) and composed of nouns, adjectives, and transitions in the correct order, but ultimately adding up to nothing meaningful. The Biologist gives her explanation for the words: “wasps and birds and other nest-builders often used some core, irreplaceable substance or material to create their structures, but would also incorporate whatever they could find in their immediate environment. This might explain the seemingly random nature of the words. It was just building material.” (VanderMeer 2014, 91) This is the land utilizing the human system of signifiers, but there is no “signified,” and the sign order breaks down as the reader attempts to make sense of it. Of course, nothing is a sign without being interpreted as such by a human mind. The Biologist cannot “read” the words but can take samples of the living material the words are made out of, and therefore attempt cognition another way. Her ability to communicate with the plants is reciprocated when


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the plants actively communicate back, infecting her with spores via her respiratory system. Later, however, the text becomes more significant, as it continues, “[t] he shadows of the abyss are like the petals of a monstrous flower that shall blossom within the skull and expand the mind beyond what any man can bear” and “there shall be a fire that knows the naming of you, and in the presence of the strangling fruit, its dark flame shall acquire every part of you” (VanderMeer 2014, 61, 138). The language started off as nonsense but the creator began to learn the meaning behind the signs and deploy them more legibly. This new text is clearer and relates to the plot where boundaries between the human, animal, and environment begin to blur, and binaries of host and parasite are disrupted. The second part of this chapter focuses on these liminal states of being. Inside Area X live monsters in the true sense: defined by hybridity. One such monster is the Lovecraftian “Crawler” who lives in the Tower. The description of the Crawler highlights this hybridity, with the Crawler’s physical body shifting and changing in front of the Biologist’s eyes. This scene is reminiscent of John Keats’ poem “Lamia,” about a monstrous serpent-woman hybrid, invoking the same flashes of color: golds, greens, and blues, and a bodily transformation (Keats 2007, 48, and VanderMeer 2014, 177). During the Crawler’s transformation, the Biologist recognizes human parts, writing, “I thought I saw a darker shadow of an arm or a kind of echo of an arm” (VanderMeer 2014, 177; emphasis in original). Eventually, the transformation reveals even more human characteristics, as the Biologist writes “staring back at me amid that profusion of selves generated by the Crawler, I saw, barely visible, the face of a man, hooded in shadow, and orbited by indescribable things” (VanderMeer 2014, 187) Lovecraft’s monsters similarly encompass human and animal traits to uncanny effect: “These figures were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree. Most of the bodies, while roughly bipedal, had a forward slumping, and a vaguely canine cast. The texture of the majority was a kind of unpleasant rubberiness” (Lovecraft 2014, “Pickman’s Model” 295). In Lovecraft’s literature, monstrosity comes from the semi-human appearance of the creatures. Lovecraft’s most famous monster, Cthulu is also partially human in appearance, described as “an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature” (Lovecraft 2014, “The Call of Cthulu” 26). The reader can also see H. G. Wells’s influence in VanderMeer’s depiction of the monstrous hybrid, specifically The Island of Dr Moreau, when we meet more of Area X’s inhabitants: dolphins with human eyes and the shell of a crab formed in the shape of a human face. Either the land has “read” human invaders and replicated them in its own materials or else the people from the past expeditions have been transformed into monstrous hybrids that can survive the monstrous land: a sort of inverse Darwinism where the land

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actively shapes its inhabitants to suit itself. In Annihilation, the human-animal hybrids are uncanny, a concept that can also be seen in Dr Moreau as Prendick encounters the Beast-Folk: I would see one of the clumsy bovine-creatures who worked the launch treading heavily through the undergrowth, and find myself asking, trying hard to recall, how he differed from some really human yokel trudging home from his mechanical labours; or I would meet the Fox-bear woman’s vulpine, shifty face, strangely human in its speculative cunning, and even imagine I had met it before in some city byway. . . . An ugly-looking man, a hunch-backed human savage to all appearance, squatting in the aperture of one of the dens, would stretch his arms and yawn, showing with startling suddenness scissor-edged incisors and sabre-like canines, keen and brilliant as knives. Or in some narrow pathway, glancing with a transitory daring into the eyes of some lithe, white-swathed female figure, I would suddenly see (with a spasmodic revulsion) that she had slit-like pupils, or, glancing down, note the curving nail with which she held her shapeless wrap about her (Wells 2005, 84).

Here, the horror comes from the possibility of the human and nonhuman coexisting: the bovine laborer, the cunning woman, the fanged troglodyte, or the attractive female figure with savage eyes. 4 At first the Beast-Folk are uncanny but, as the narrative continues, they become menacing and murderous, having been abused by Moreau, a representative of that type of science which attempts to control or change the natural world through human intervention. It is worth pointing out that while in Annihilation human characteristics are displayed by biota of the land, the Beast-Folk are more human than animal in spite of being of animal origin. They have acquired language—this is the first thing Moreau teaches them—and they have created a quasi-religious hierarchy with Moreau as an Old Testament, fire-and-brimstone God. They even sing hymns. However, the text underlines this idea of an absolute separation between human and biota even as the scientist attempts to reconcile them. As Moreau states: “these creatures of mine seemed strange and uncanny to you so soon as you began to observe them; but to me, just after I make them, they seem to be indisputably human beings. It’s afterward, as I observe them, that the persuasion fades. First one animal trait, then another, creeps to the surface and stares out at me.” (Wells 2005, 78) It is interesting that Moreau cites the gaze as the locus of the human/animal divide in both this quotation and the previous extract. VanderMeer also uses this concept. As discussed, the dolphin spotted by the Biologist has human eyes. The voice also becomes a demonstration of the similarities between the human and nonhuman. The Biologist hears hybrid monsters moaning in a scene reminiscent of Prendick hearing the cries of the puma/woman that Dr Moreau is experimenting on: “the crying sounded even louder out of doors. It was as if


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all the pain in the world had found a voice. Yet had I known such pain was in the next room, and had it been dumb, I believe—I have thought since—I could have stood it well enough. It is when suffering finds a voice and sets our nerves quivering that this pity comes troubling us.” (Wells 2005, 93) The Biologist writes, “[t]he moaning started. . . . this close the sound was more guttural, filled with confused anguish and rage. It seemed so utterly human and inhuman” (VanderMeer 2014, 139). Here, the horror is again located within the moment that the listener realizes that hybridity is present: “had it been dumb . . . I could have stood it well enough” and the voice both “utterly human and inhuman.” In Annihilation the boundaries between the humans and the land are also broken down. The writing on the wall in the Tower, for example, is both culture—recognizably human signs, although perhaps meaningless—and nature: it is physically made of plant life. Human/flora boundaries are likewise blurred. In Area X, the Biologist sees “a few peculiar eruptions of moss or lichen, rising four, five feet tall, misshapen, the vegetative matter forming approximations of limbs and heads and torsos. . . . Four such eruptions, one ‘standing,’ and three decomposed to the point of ‘sitting’ in what once must have been a living room with a coffee table and a couch—all facing some point at the far end of the room where lay only the crumbling soft brick remains of a fireplace and chimney.” (VanderMeer 2014, 96) These descriptions evoke a real-life parasitic fungus, the cordyceps whose spores infect an insect host’s body, gradually replacing insect tissue with its own biology. Some species of cordyceps affect the hosts’ behavior, driving them to seek out the perfect conditions for the fungus to spore, moving in a zombie-like state with no control over their actions. As mushrooms grow from the bodies of insects, there is an “eruption,” as described by the Biologist, and these insects will often be killed or cast out by their colony, as the other insects recognize the danger and eliminates the threat. In Annihilation, the team are attacked by a boar who seems to be possessed, and at this point, the Biologist writes, “My thoughts turned inward for explanations for what I had seen: parasites and other hitchhikers of a neurological nature. . . . entirely rational biological theories” (VanderMeer 2014, 16). The spores inhaled by the Biologist later drive her towards the Tower (VanderMeer 2014, 157). Brought into popular consciousness by David Attenborough’s Planet Earth episode “Jungles,” (2007) cordyceps are responsible for creating human zombies in the video game The Last of Us (2013) and in M. R. Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts (2014). In the video game and Carey’s novel, humans are affected by cordyceps that have crossed the species barrier. Instead of climbing to a suitable space to release spores, affected humans are driven to bite people to spread the fungal infection. The fungus and its host as a holistic entity becomes something new: it is neither fully insect or fungus, or else it is both. In Annihilation, the humans who enter Area X find them-

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selves assimilated into the landscape, becoming a part of something else and also something new. Instead of the human/animal as parasite, the land itself is parasitic, inhabiting the humans and changing them to suit itself. Cordyceps do have an altering effect on human biology: isariasinclairii is used in medicine to derive immunosuppressive drugs used in organ transplants, quashing the body’s natural rejection of foreign invaders. Similarly, a real plant called the “strangle weed” (perhaps invoked in the novel by the “strangling fruit”) is not only parasitic by nature, but actually alters genetic material—RNA—through an exchange procedure with its host. Scientists have posited that this is a form of communication between plants, furthering our understanding of how far we can claim sentience for flora (Gujune et al. 2014). In the essay on the ecoGothic genre, “A Gothic Apocalypse,” Susan J. Tyburski highlights “a growing number of apocalyptic films from the United States depict[ing] humans encountering monstrous versions of nature. [In these films] nature becomes an avenging force, eliminating troublesome humans from the environment—or, even more monstrous, nature is depicted as an alien entity utterly indifferent to the fate of humanity” (Tyburski 2013, 147). In Annihilation we see something new: nature co-mingling with humanity. Once infected by the spores, the Biologist takes on a new identity. The Biologist specializes in “transitional environments,” a telling interest considering her transitional identity (VanderMeer 2014, 12). In fact, the Biologist barely has a human identity. We never know her name, but the nickname given to her by her husband was Ghost Bird. “Ghost” hints at the idea of ghost-written (perhaps relating to her journal). A ghost is something that returns (there is a question mark over whether anybody truly returns from Area X). It is something that is not truly there but remains in some sense: the Biologist is, in fact, absent: the narrative is past tense and it is suggested that we, the reader, have found her journal. A ghost is both human and nonhuman, a liminal state of being, while “Bird” further establishes her nonhuman identity. The Biologist nevertheless accepts her liminal state between identities, and, later, between life and death, due to the connection it provides her with her environment. The Biologist has never experienced what Simon C. Estok has labeled “ecophobia,” or, an “irrational and groundless hatred of the natural world” (Estok 2011, 4). David De Principe expands on this definition to describe “fears stemming from humans’ precarious relationship with all that is nonhuman,” and both the hatred and the fear of the landscape are expressed by all of the characters in Annihilation except for the Biologist (De Principe 2014, 1). While post and transhumanist literature imagines a future in which parts of the human body are replaced by technology, often making it vulnerable to hacking by the same scientific method designed to save it, Annihilation ima-


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gines the human body combining with biota instead. This is usually a violent act, except for in the case of the Biologist, who welcomes the transformation. She admits early in the text that entering Area X was a suicide mission, a willing act of destruction of the self that is echoed by the title of the text. She seeks annihilation of her human identity, or, “[d]eath that would not mean being dead” like she saw in her husband when he returned from Area X (VanderMeer 2014, 35). Craving the type of symbiotic relationship evidenced by a neglected pool in her childhood back garden, with its perfectly balanced ecosystem, the Biologist felt alienated first from her human family and then from her husband, failing at the human type of co-dependency. Of her relationship with her parents, the Biologist writes “so we proceeded, locked into our separate imperatives. They had their lives, and I had mine” (VanderMeer 2014, 45). She writes, “My existence back in the world had become at least as empty as Area X” (VanderMeer 2014, 12). There was no symbiosis. Her transformation feels like a return to a comforting, primordial state or inevitable evolutionary degeneration. 5 The Psychologist, confronting her, says “[y]ou’re just becoming more of what you’ve always been” (VanderMeer 2014, 127). When the Biologist’s assimilation to the landscape has become complete, the Crawler is able to “read” her, and the narrative circles back to the writing on the walls of the Tower discovered early on, the Biologist saying “[a]pparently, I was recognisable to the Crawler now. Apparently, I was words it could understand” (VanderMeer 2014, 182). Thus, in VanderMeer’s new EcoGothic mode, Mellor’s conception of the two types of science and the physical universe can be expanded to include the physical universe that attempts to describe accurately the functionings of human intervention, and the physical universe that attempts to control or change human intervention. However, to some extent, this overwhelming power of landscape in Annihilation is a theme on a continuum with Frankenstein and other Romanticera literature. The landscape becomes a character in Frankenstein, as the ship is held in ice for the duration of Victor Frankenstein’s story. The monster becomes assimilated with the landscape in the final lines of the novel, saying “my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds,” and Walden writes: “he soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance” (Shelley 2003, 225). The Romantic landscape is a sublime, sentient, and often malevolent force, as we can see in extracts from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” and William Wordsworth’s The Prelude. Shelley writes: The glaciers creep Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains, Slow rolling on; there, many a precipice Frost and the Sun in scorn of mortal power Have pil’d: dome, pyramid, and pinnacle,

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A city of death, distinct with many a tower And wall impregnable of beaming ice. Yet not a city, but a flood of ruin Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing Its destin’d path, or in the mangled soil Branchless and shatter’d stand; the rocks, drawn down From yon remotest waste, have overthrown The limits of the dead and living world, Never to be reclaim’d (Shelley 2009, 100–15).

Here, the glaciers are alternatively described as creeping predators, a hostile city, and an unstoppable river destroying everything in its path. In spite of the opening lines of the poem comparing the speaker’s own mind to the sublime natural landscape, here the speaker feels a sense of separation from the “impregnable” and remote glacier. Wordsworth writes: When, from behind that craggy steep till then The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge, As if with voluntary power instinct, Upreared its head. I struck and struck again, And growing still in stature the grim shape Towered up between me and the stars, and still, For so it seemed, with purpose of its own And measured motion like a living thing, Strode after me (Wordsworth 1995, 21–30).

In these lines, the peak of the mountain appears to lift its head to intimidate and even chase the speaker like a mythical leviathan, overwhelming the speaker with fear. In both poems, the sublime landscape reminds the human speaker of their brevity and insignificance. One difference between the Romantic representation of the sublime and the ecoGothic in Annihilation is the assimilation of the human into the landscape; or, the denial of disconnect between human and landscape that the Romantic poets felt keenly, but Mary Shelley hinted at in her ending to Frankenstein. It is also a difference of scale: the mountains described by Wordsworth and Shelley are overwhelming in their vastness, but the spores that infect humans in Annihilation are so small as to be almost invisible. It is interesting to note that the landscape in Annihilation is neither sublime in the Romantic sense nor exotic: there are no awe-inspiring mountains or frozen glaciers, and it is not a subtropical environment as depicted in Alex Garland’s film adaptation of the novel. The landscape is, as previously mentioned, marsh and woodland typical of North America and most of Europe. In fact, the landscape is based on a nature reserve in Florida that was familiar to the author (Mary 2017, n.p). By resisting both the Romantic sublime and Orientalism, VanderMeer posits a new type of ecoGothic where a familiar manifestation of nature has the ability to powerfully alter humankind.


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While humanity has long held itself separate from nature, using science as a lens through which to analyze the natural world or else control and change it, in Annihilation, nature analyses, controls, and changes right back. The science fiction genre has traditionally used hybridity as a source of horror, the ecoGothic tradition, until now, has posited a world in which nature seeks to eliminate humankind. In Annihilation, the apocalypse is not the wiping out of humanity, but the assimilation of humans into the land. This chapter began with a quote from Anne Mellor that said Frankenstein was an exploration of the tension between science that classifies and analyses the natural world and science that attempts to change and control it. However, like Annihilation, Frankenstein is, in fact, also a rejection of the type of science that attempts to describe the natural world: after all, Walton meets Frankenstein while his ship has been seized by seemingly sentient, malevolent ice, which captures and delays the ship just long enough for Frankenstein to relate his story. When the story is finished, the ice releases Walton, seemingly with the knowledge that the intrepid explorer will, in fact, turn back and give up his goal of reaching true North and thus denying the power of science to understand the natural world. The Romantics felt a sense of the sublime in nature’s power to forcibly throw off the scientific lens created by humankind, and this is continued in VanderMeer’s ecoGothic writing. NOTES 1. Although Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, this chapter considers the text as a discrete whole. 2. The scientists are also all female, although previous iterations have been made up of different sexes. There are strong connections between EcoGothic criticism and feminist literary theory. An exploration of this is outside the remit of this chapter. An examination of the novel through both of these lenses would be a valuable addition to the literature; particularly focusing on VanderMeer’s inversion of the traditionally gendered concepts of science (as masculine) and nature (as feminine). 3. A new concept of speech and language was developed during the Enlightenment, when views of human nature were changing. Language was bound up with cultural, social, and physiological questions. In the seventeenth century the philosopher John Locke wrote about the importance of and the problems with humankind’s capacity for speech in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). In the eighteenth century there were debates about how language had originated, and whether it was innate or acquired. In 1759, Adam Smith wrote a supplement to his Theory of Moral Sentiments, titled “Considerations Concerning the First Formations of Languages and the Different Genius of Original and Compounded Languages.” In this he endeavored to prove that language was a natural development and not a divine gift. Horne Tooke’s Diversions of Purley (1786) explored language not from a philological point of view but a philosophical one, rejecting Locke’s concerns about the imperfections of language. However, all agreed that language was an important division between humankind and animals. 4. The animalistic and sexual traits of the hybrid woman are compounded in this description, with the fox-bear woman reminding Prendick of a face seen “in some city by way;” and his illicit staring at a woman’s attractive body who, again, is found in a “narrow pathway” (undoubtedly both referencing sex workers). It is a long held trope that excessive or blatant female sexuality is an indicator of a lower, base or animal nature: see, for example, Bertha

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Mason in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 2008. London: Oxford World Classics). 5. The idea of evolution/degeneration is also seen in the name of the monster, the “Crawler,” “crawl” being a verb associated with distinguishing new lifeforms from the primordial “soup.”

REFERENCES Carey, M. R. 2014. The Girl with All The Gifts. London: Orbit. De Principe, David. 2014. “Introduction: The EcoGothic in the Long Nineteenth Century.” Gothic Studies 16 (1): 1–8. Druckmann, Neil. 2013. The Last of Us. Naughty Dog: Sony Computer Entertainment. Estok, Simon. C. 2011. EcoCriticism and Shakespeare: Reading Ecophobia. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Fothergill, Alastair, dir. 2006. Planet Earth: The Complete Series. 1, 8, “Jungles.” 2007, BBC. Garland, Alex, dir. 2018. Annihilation. Paramount. Gujune, Kim, et al. 2014. “Genomic–scale exchange of mRNA between a parasitic plant and its hosts.” Science. 345, 6198: 808–811. Keats, John. 2007. “Lamia.” Selected Poems. 199–219. London: Penguin Classics. Locke, John. 2014. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Hereford: Wordsworth Editions. Lovecraft, H. P. 2014. “The Call of Cthulu.” In The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft. 25–37. London: Race Point. ———. 2014. “Pickman’s Model.” The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft. 293–98. London: Race Point. Mary. 26 Aug. 2017. “Interview with Jeff VanderMeer, Southern Reach Trilogy.” Solarpunk Contest, Eco-Fiction, https://dragonfly.eco/interview-with-jeff-vandermeer/. Mellor, Anne. 1988. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. London: Routledge. Shelley, P. B. 2009. “Mont Blanc.” In The Major Works, edited by Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill, 120–24. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Shelley, Mary. 2003. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Penguin Classics. Smith, Adam. 1982. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Edited by D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics. Tooke, Horne. 1829. Diversions of Purley. 2 Vols. Edited by Richard Taylor. London: Taylor. Tyburski, Susan. 2013. “A Gothic Apocalypse: Encountering the Monstrous in American Cinema.” In EcoGothic, edited by Andrew Smith and William Hughes, 147–59. Manchester: Manchester University Press. VanderMeer, Jeff. 2014. Annihilation. London: Harper Collins. Wells, H. G. 2005. The Island of Dr Moreau. London: Penguin Classics. Wordsworth, William. 1995. The Prelude: The Four Texts (1798, 1799, 1805, 1850). London: Penguin.

Chapter Five

Santiago Rusiñol’s Abandoned Gardens Between the Poetics of Ruin and the Defense of a Lost Identity Laura Sanz García

The last decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the spectacular development of landscape architecture, spearheaded by the American, Frederick Law Olmsted. However, interest in gardens was by no means limited to landscape designers. The fin de siècle saw artists from a diverse range of fields demonstrate considerable appreciation of gardening, both in their work and in their own homes. Symbolist literature, in particular, testifies to this, with gardens evoking a range of new meanings. Whether as the setting for a romantic encounter, an escape from industrialized society or a means of reconciliation with nature, the garden became a recurring theme for poets, novelists, and playwrights. It is precisely at the end of the 1800s that French symbolism begins to associate the garden with more metaphorical connotations, while the opportunities provided by gardens to employ synesthesia, treasured by symbolist poets, should not be overlooked. Symbolism exercises enormous influence in Spanish culture, still expressed in the early days of the twentieth century through literary journals, and it does so in the shape of modernism. The artistic manifestations of Spanish modernism go beyond the purely literary, extending into architecture, painting, decorative arts, and even music. The inspirational strength of the garden, a source of multiple synesthesias, is to be found in its rich symbolism and cultural significance. Often, portrayals of the garden appear simultaneously in two different art forms or inspire similar interpretations from different creative perspectives. 61


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The prime example of these interchanges is Rusiñol’s work Jardines de España, in which a collection of paintings is published alongside a series of poems, by a range of different authors, all on the same theme. Jardines de España was to be a genuine revelation for the composer Manuel de Falla; in the development of Noches en los Jardines de España, Rusiñol’s book serves as substitute for a real journey, as it was not until 1915 that Falla saw the gardens of Granada for himself. Together with Debussy and Albéniz, Falla represents “a new literary and musical perspective on the gardens of Granada” (Quesada Dorador 1998, 27) in which poets such as Lorca also participate. As Quesada Dorador underlines, Lorca admired in Soirée dans Grenade the concentration of “all the emotional features of night–time in Granada, the faraway blue of the plain, the mountains reaching out to the trembling Mediterranean, the long fingers of mist creeping into the distance, the city’s admirable tempo rubato and the spellbinding trickling of subterranean water” (qtd. in Quesada Dorador 1998, 27). Twentieth-century musicians approach the garden from this last perspective, occasionally aided by onomatopoeic effects to imitate the music provided by nature. The development of these musical expressions reaches its height within French impressionism: Debussy embarks on this exploration with Lindaraja (1901), followed by “Jardins sous la pluie” (Estampes, 1903) and “Reflets dans l’eau” (Images I, 1905). Other impressionist composers who take up this theme are Ravel (Jeux d’Eau) and Respighi (Fontane di Roma). In Spain, the garden provides a recurring theme of inspiration for Joaquín Turina (the opera Jardín de Oriente, 1923; Jardines de Andalucía, pieces for piano, 1924), the guitarist Ángel Barrios and Enrique Granados, among many others. Traditionally, modernism ’s decadent, hedonist approach has been set against the cultural and political regeneration sought by the Generation of ‘98. However, both movements share the same interpretation regarding one particular aspect of the “garden genre”: the theme of the abandoned garden. The Spanish perspective on these aged gardens, in literature, visual arts, and music, speaks of their historical dimension and also, in the context of the Spanish Silver Age, of their cultural connotations. From 1900, the abandoned garden provides an opportunity to champion the cultural heritage and sense of national identity which nature seemed to have diluted. THE ABANDONED GARDEN FROM THE SYMBOLIST PERSPECTIVE Among the Spanish artists most inspired by gardens is the writer and painter Santiago Rusiñol. Thanks to the dual natural of his creative activity, Rusiñol was to inspire passion for gardens among other significant names in Spanish

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modernism. He had first fallen in love with gardens in 1894, during a trip to Italy with Zuloaga, specifically in Fiesole (Florence). However, he had already displayed an interest in the patios of Sitges (1891–1895), both in paintings and even the occasional text, such as “El Patio Azul” (published in Fulls de la Vida. Barcelona, Tip. de l’Avenç, 1898), brimming with flowers described in great detail. The collected impressions Desde el Molino (c. 1894) illustrate Rusiñol’s love affair with gardening. This book contains one of the first references to the theme of the abandoned garden, which runs through all of Rusiñol’s work, both in literature and the visual arts: The acacias, always sickly-looking trees, have here the pallid shade of death painted on the few leaves they miraculously retain, and their branches lean toward the sunlight, which, day after day, they await in vain; the ivy swoons and stretches out its fingers, unable to cling onto the wall any longer; the climbing plants, trying to reach the highest windows, become tangled on the floor and have neither the strength to lift their stems nor the sap to feed themselves; humidity strips the few surviving flowers of color and they grow, white and anemic, as if sculpted of faded paper; the vine passes away, torn between giving fruit or foliage; and all of the plants, downtrodden by cold in the winter and human flora in the summer can endure no longer, and live condemned and bleed to death in this garden watered with beer (Rusiñol 1999, 11).

These lines reveal the symbolist influence of Maeterlinck, which Rusiñol absorbs while in Paris. However, it is during a trip to Andalusia that the leitmotif—in reality, a genuine obsession—of his later works develops in earnest. From the night in 1895 that he came across Realejo, a square in the city of Granada, Rusiñol would paint only gardens, a few landscapes of Mallorca aside. In 1897, Rusiñol published the book Oracions, whose poem A los Jardines Abandonados is dedicated to the neglected and forgotten garden, yet to be discovered: Earth’s dreamers, let us not forsake the abandoned gardens! Come, before the last memories still nesting there have vanished, before the trees die and the fountains sink, before the marble crumbles and the ivy covers the rocks, before the birds flee and the night owls enter. Come, while the cypress trees still stand and the boxwood hedges remain in line; while it is yet possible to reach the names of couples carved into the tree trunks; while they are living ruins and oases of poetry (qtd. in Labajos and Ramón-Laca 2007, 34–35).

This literary description would soon be expressed in painting, with works such as Jardín Abandonado en Granada (1898), identified as the Palacio de Cuzco in Víznar: Gardens, whether Parisian or Spanish, always maintain this


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patina of nostalgia and avoidance of modern life characteristic of the Decadent movement. In 1899, Rusiñol presented his collection Jardines de España at Bing’s Maison de l’Art Nouveau in Paris, to critical and public acclaim: twenty–five paintings of gardens in Granada, one of Aranjuez, one of La Granja, two of Sitges, two of Tarragona and one of the Horta Maze in Barcelona. According to Litvak, “[viewers were] excited by Spain as the maestro portrayed it, languid, mysterious and sleepy. They were surprised by the richness of the theme, the complex emotional background evoked by his canvasses, the bond of tedious secrecy and melancholy that links the artist to his landscapes” (Litvak 1999, 15). The response in Paris was unanimous, and critics in Barcelona also expressed their enthusiasm for Rusiñol’s work. This marked the starting point for the garden as a theme in contemporary Spanish painting, aided even further from 1903 by the publication of the series in the book Jardins d’Espanya. Over recent years, a number of different authors have turned their attention to the impact of Rusiñol’s painting, long-neglected as it was considered superficial and commercial, repetitive, and decadent. Xavier Antich analyses the role of Rusiñol’s gardens as the space in which the artist “was to find his aesthetic ideal: space for art” (Antich 1999, 22). The complexity of this ideal is evidenced by the many interpretations these painted gardens have given rise to. Although Rusiñol’s imagery can be understood within the Decadent movement, the Catalan painter went much further, seeing the garden as “man’s supreme attempt to dominate Nature and test his strength against her in the creation of Beauty . . . Behind the beauty of a garden is always man’s ability to reason” (Laplana 1999, 61). For this reason, his paintings emanate a poetic meaning that requires neither characters nor plot: Rusiñol’s painting is “pure, absolute poetry, without any other references beyond the painting than the painting itself . . . landscape in verse” (Antich 1999, 24). In this sense, Rusiñol’s gardens allude to nature as something wounded; they reflect the sickness in nature’s soul, with cypress and willow trees symbolizing melancholy and death. However, the first gardens that Rusiñol painted were those of the Generalife Palace. There, the artist found the perfect meeting of art and nature, the last bastion of poetry for modern man. Throughout the nineteenth century, Granada had become a genuine legend of landscape design: the romantic myth had been fuelled by Fortuny, but also by the composers Albéniz, Falla, and Debussy. At the start of the twentieth century, many artists were still painting Granada, from Joaquín Sorolla to Darío de Regoyos. According to Quesada Dorador, Rusiñol was responsible for the most significant reexamination of Granada’s landscape after Fortuny: his vision of Granada was the only one capable of influencing artists from the city itself, such as Rodríguez-Acosta or López Mezquita (Quesada Dorador 2005, 72).

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Rusiñol’s artistic relationship with Granada developed over five stays in the city between 1887 and 1922. From the outset, his experience of those gardens was immensely personal, synesthetic even: from 1887, the artist experienced in Granada “the sensuality in the Eastern refinement of the monuments and the Arab gardens” (Panyella 1999, 39). In later journeys, the friendships Rusiñol established with relevant figures from Granada’s intellectual circles—Francisco de Paula Valladar, Ángel Ganivet, Manuel de Falla—brought him even closer to the garden as an artistic space and setting for aesthetic reflection. The epitome of Granada’s gardens was the carmen (a walled, often terraced, garden typical of the city’s Albaicín and Realejo quarters): there, Rusiñol encounters a pictorial replacement for the hackneyed Sitges patio format, by harnessing the colorful, cheerful melancholy of Granada’s carmens. This development earned him the recognition of many contemporaries and critical acclaim from sectors closely aligned with Isidre Nonell’s social realism. Santiago Rusiñol’s work brought forth rivers of ink in the specialist press, which explains the significance of his gardens in Spanish Silver Age culture. From Granada, Rusiñol presents his own, personal theory on gardens, with pre-Raphaelite allegories of Music, Painting, and Poetry—created for his home, Cau Ferrat—as a backdrop (Trenc 1998, 218). The artist endeavors to characterize the languid, mystical atmosphere of the symbolist garden: I imagine realist gardens, turned into productive vegetable plots, and I see modernist gardens made up of ancient trees, spiritual plants and symbolic significance: huge laurels, myrtles, cypresses and oleander in severe hedges to keep any commonplace perspectives out of sight; lines of lilacs and lilies, and aquatic plants sleeping on quiet, mysterious ponds; groups of flowers, forming a rainbow with their colors, or arranged with others in matching shades; and everything enveloped in a mystical aroma of refined good taste, matte, swimming in a vague mist like a finely tuned orchestra of inky tones, where the soul can delight in absolute repose (Rusiñol 1922, 307–308).

According to Jorge de Persia, Rusiñol’s passion for gardens has nothing to do with decadent aesthetics, but with “the realization of an aesthetic perspective, as opposed to a landscape design viewpoint, whose reflection in music would come with the first books of the Iberia suite by Albéniz and culminate with de Falla’s music on the same theme” (De Persia, 2003, 172). Indeed, personal interpretations abound in Rusiñol’s gardens, above and beyond the purely symbolist references. However, his approach to life and art (l’art pour l’art), along with his reiteration of certain themes—from the abandoned garden to hispano arabic orientalism—reinforce the link between his work and the late nineteenth-century Decadent movement.


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THE ABANDONED GARDEN: SYMBOLIST LITERATURE In parallel to his pictorial works, Rusiñol developed the theme of the abandoned garden in different literary genres, first in Catalan and then in Castilian Spanish. As José María Balcells recalls, the neglected garden has been addressed as a literary subject since the fifteenth century, explored during the Baroque and by Romanticism (289). Modernist literature takes on the theme and widens it to cover the ancient park, because of its capacity to evoke melancholic and nostalgic moods like Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s pre-Raphaelite gardens. The literary standard-bearer of this leitmotif is the lyrical play entitled El Jardí Abandonat (L’Avenç, 1900), the epitome of modernist decadent style. The work was read by its author, Rusiñol, at a private event in Sitges (1899) and by Adriá Gual in Sala Parés, Barcelona (1900). With his theatrical piece and the exploration of gardens as a literary theme, Rusiñol embarks upon the most mature phase of his literary output, a period during which he is to encounter a more personal, intimate world (Trenc Ballester 1998, 212). Aurora, the protagonist of the play, finds spiritual refuge in the old garden at her family home, and none of her three suitors are able to lure her out. In El Jardín Abandonado, Rusiñol describes the scene, emphasizing the classicism and decadence of the old garden as well as the sadness that has overwhelmed it: It represents the scene of a forgotten garden, a classical garden, with noble plants, sick through neglect, that still maintains the distinguished air which improvised gardens lack; a garden with a patina of age, modeled by time’s caresses, and sad, with the sadness born of ancient trees and deep-rooted plants. (Rusiñol 1902, 7–8). The text’s affinity to French symbolism is revealed by the choir of fairies that begin and end the work. With a nostalgic tone, El Jardí Abandonat laments the end of modernist beauty at the dawn of noucentisme and modernity. The same melancholy for the past leads Aurora to remain forever in her family home, and the fairies express their approval with the chorus: “Daughter of the ancient gardens, / cry not with longing / to the nesting place of flora come / which is the nest of hope” (Rusiñol 1902, 447). According to Balcells, this gateway to hope—contained within the protagonist’s very name—symbolizes rebirth after the gardens’ death, “from the consciousness of the poetic spirit they possess . . . seeping through the ruins portrayed in the text are the values that the marquess and her granddaughter—and therefore Rusiñol— consider to be very positive, such as solitude, sadness, memory, and the longing evocation of distant times, filled with meaning” (Rusiñol 1902, 303). In Rusiñol’s abandoned gardens, the struggle between man and nature is personified, a struggle contained within the very concept of the garden as nature under control:

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Virgin nature, always tirelessly working to erode man’s labors with her abundance, pushing from beneath the soil to expel unwanted flowers, secretly crippling the subtle refinements introduced by the artist, obliges one to regard with condolence and sympathy the slow destruction which nullifies the hopeful expectation of times past, banishes a legacy of hope and buries lost dreams, making a cemetery of what was once a cradle of love and shelter for blessed hearts (Rusiñol 1895).

Nature’s triumph links symbolism with apparently opposing aesthetics such as naturalism: “Masochistic melancholy, necrophilia, complacency in the face of failure, the evocation of sickly forms, solitude, pallidness, and pain reveal certain modernist passages to possess a distinctly naturalist ancestry” (Litvak 1992, 126). As such, Valle-Inclán’s gardens in Sonata de Otoño are barely distinguishable from the pazos (country houses in the north of Spain) described by Emilia Pardo Bazán. Both portray landscapes dominated by Italian-style mansions, “secular myrtles” and cypresses, ruins inhabited by climbing plants and fallen leaves. An antecedent to these viewpoints is provided by the late-Romantic poetry of Rosalía de Castro (Follas Novas, 1880). The reiteration of these romantic images in late nineteenth-century literature illustrates that, within the modernist framework, the poetics of ruin survives. This kind of rural architecture, which emerges in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, contributes—like other local features such as sones (terraced citrus orchards typical of Mallorca), carmenes (walled gardens characteristic of Granada) and cigarrales (country estates found in Toledo)—toward creating an identity for the whole region. However, in the absence of any contemporary reformulation, these buildings remain in the collective imagination of Galicia as a literary evocation of the past. Beyond symbolist interpretations, Rusiñol and his abandoned gardens were crucial for the discovery of garden architecture at the turn of the century. In his text from 1897, “A los jardines abandonados” (Oraciones), Rusiñol appealed for these gardens to be remembered before they disappear, mixing lyricism with a certain sense of national heritage. Perhaps unwittingly, Rusiñol’s words contributed, together with other writers and artists, to “promote the environmental value of the Spanish garden, by that time in marked decline” (Labajos and Ramón-Laca 2007, 34). In the Catalan context, many authors take up the theme of the abandoned garden; various collaborations with Rusiñol (by authors such as Oliver, Matheu Alcov, Costa y Llobera) were published in literary magazines such as Pel & Ploma, leading to greater visibility among the Barcelona public.


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GARDEN, SYMBOLISM, AND SYNAESTHESIA IN RUSIÑOL’S WORK It is no coincidence that Rusiñol recreated his abandoned gardens with both pen and paintbrush. If anything defines symbolism in all of its manifestations, it is the search for synesthesia as an all-encompassing aesthetic experience. Valle-Inclán defines it as “a tendency to refine sensations and increase them in number and intensity. There are poets who dream of giving their verses the rhythm of a dance, the melody of music, and the majesty of a statue” (1902). Valle-Inclán’s notion of synesthesia is that of Baudelaire, according to which, “aromas are not only equivalent to sounds but also to colors.” However, this concept was rejected by a significant number of Spanish critics—more rooted in realism—who denied the possibility of interpreting sensations. Valle-Inclán’s interest in provoking visual, auditive and olfactory impressions in his readers is clear in his Sonatas, in which his writing style itself is tailored to achieve a certain musical rhythm. More generally, the search for synesthesia once again places the garden at the center of modernist attention. The garden’s multi-sensorial qualities are expressed artistically through word, image, and sound. Modernist writers’ musical inclinations are evident in their biographies and their literary production. Rusiñol repeatedly expresses his love of music, even bad music, if it fitted his mood, and—most significantly—always in conjunction with nature (Rusiñol 1999, 130). Santiago Rusiñol commissioned the modernist composer Enric Morera to write a score for Oracions (L’Avenç, 1897). This work, considered by some authors as the first book of poetic prose to be published in Spain, contained the previously cited text, “A los jardines abandonados,” together with illustrations by Miguel Utrillo. The complete work constitutes “one of the first examples in Catalan modernism of the symbolist and Wagnerian concept of total art” (Trenc 1998, 211–212). Likewise, El Jardí Abandonat had its own soundtrack, composed by Joan Gay (Rusiñol and Gay 1990, 3) for the work’s premier at Sala Parés, where it was read by Adriá Gual. According to Litvak, the composition “in the first piece, harmonized a minuet with the garden’s aged appearance. The popular motif of the second piece had all the melancholy of memories, as a woman— Aurora—wanly flourishes, and the fairies murmur in the old fountain’s stagnant waters” (Litvak 1991, 124–126). Rusiñol was widely acknowledged by his contemporaries as a “total artist,” Enrique Díez-Canedo, for example, describing him as a “painter-poet”: “Poet in his painting, not because he makes painting literary, but because he imbues it with a vague, unspecific feeling, which can be deduced and translated even better by the synthetic abstraction of music than through the accuracy of literature. His inspiration is at the frontier of these three art forms” (Díez-Canedo 1907, 125).

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This kind of musical illustration is frequent in modernist lyricism. In 1907, Pel & Ploma magazine published two poems by Josep Maria Roviralta from the book Boires Baixes, entitled “Canten les Flors. Les Roses” and “Canten els Arbres” (Roviralta 1902, 269–271). Catalan modernism’s fondness of flowers is expressed in this work which, according to Eugenio d’Ors, is set in blossom-filled gardens (D’Ors 1902, 260–269). The book’s atmosphere of fantasy is duly accompanied with a piece composed by Enrique Granados (Granados 1902, 274), published in Pel & Ploma in the reduced version for piano, together with a modernist illustration by Lluis Bonnin. THE REGENERATIONIST VIEWPOINT: PAINTING AND POETRY IN JARDINS D’ESPANYA Margarida Casacuberta (1999, 17), among other authors, has questioned the nationalist interpretation of garden painting, taking into account the profoundly subjective nature of symbolist imagery. However, it is possible to extract a nationalist reading of this genre. From the evocation of a historic past in decadence to the popular culture of Andalusian patios, Spanish artists have found in the garden a reservoir of memories which feed into their sense of national or regional belonging. The main theme of the symbolist garden, in painting and literature alike, is the evocation of the past in the abandoned garden. Fin de siècle melancholy and sadness, characteristic of the Generation of ’98, are expressed in symbolism through ancient, decadent, occasionally autumnal gardens in which the deciduous vegetation underlines the pass of time and the changing seasons. The archetype for this topic is provided by Santiago Rusiñol’s work, starting in 1888 when he paints Patio Abandonado, El Patio de mi Casa, Parque Monceau and other “melancholic scenes shrouded in mist, with sad, deserted, silent landscapes visible through the branches of naked trees” (Litvak 2000, 487). Another feature linking symbolism and Generation of ‘98 aesthetics is physical determinism, the triumph of nature over man’s industrial progress: in late nineteenth-century gardens, pathways are covered with weeds and vegetation grows beyond all control. The diversity of settings is very representative of the different garden traditions across Spain: royal and aristocratic gardens, country houses (pazos) in Galicia, terraced citrus orchards (sones) in Mallorca, large country estates (cigarrales) in Toledo, patios in Andalusia . . . These scenes are expressions of national and regional identity, manifested through painting. Interest in gardening as a subject matter coincides with a renewed enthusiasm for the activity of gardening itself (from neo-Arab recreations to the resurgence of the “classic Spanish garden,” or Rubió’s theories on the “latin garden”), making its impact among visual artists even more significant.


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Artists from the early twentieth century, following in Santiago Rusiñol’s footsteps, “contributed to promote the environmental value of the Spanish garden, by then in marked decline, although perhaps they did so unwittingly” (Labajos and Ramón Laca 2007, 34). Among them were significant figures such as Darío de Regoyos, José María Rodríguez-Acosta, Ignacio Pinazo, Gonzalo Bilbao, Romero de Torres, Eliseo Meifrén, Joaquín Mir, Casimiro Sainz, Francisco Iturrino, and even Javier de Winthuysen, who was a painter before he became a garden designer. All of them portray gardens, patios, and vegetable plots, in styles ranging from pictorial regionalism to the avantgarde, and across the whole of Spain’s geography. Jorge de Persia, as mentioned, questions the strength of the garden as a source of identity, setting the Generation of ’98’s identity-led approach to landscape against Rusiñol’s poetic language of gardens. Nevertheless, the same author admits that, “what impressed Spanish modernists [about the garden] was its capacity to store time, to safeguard tangible essences of history; . . . it is a conservatory of essences which, like the biblical garden, maintains its ability to bring forth life, to renew it” (Persia 2003, 159). In this sense, abandoned gardens are those with a classical, geometric layout and topiary, like Monforte (Jardín Neoclásico (Valencia), Santiago Rusiñol, 1897–1900). Built features—terraces, amphitheaters, pergolas, fences, walls—give the spaces the feel of a theatrical set, inhabited almost exclusively by sculptures of mythological figures and the occasional animal (peacocks, swans, doves). The second historical model adopted by painters is, of course, the Hispano-Arab garden, which maintains its status as the romantic idealization of paradise. The intimate Islamic garden (peace, order, silence) converses with stunning panoramic views, and water, whether in tranquil pools or bubbling fountains, is a fundamental ingredient. Playful waters, light, and color, as well as vegetation typical of the south (fruit trees, cypresses, and even palm trees), are other recurring features in pictorial representations of the HispanoArab garden. In his article on “Los Cármenes de Granada,” Rusiñol admits that gardens “bear the mark of their inventors, reveal the character and customs of the people that created them” (Rusiñol 1922). The Catalan displays a profound awareness of historic Spanish gardens, their importance, poor state of repair, and of the need to recover these spaces: “But, has Spain ever had gardens? Naturally! In Spain, we have had everything, but we have gradually lost it all. And if we have not destroyed and disfigured more buildings under the pretext of restoring them, it is because we have always been lucky enough to be poor and so unable to do more harm” (Rusiñol 1912, 167). For this reason, he painted all kinds of gardens: classical, like the garden at Monforte, one of his favorites; landscapes filled with almond blossoms in Mallorca, abbey and

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cathedral cloisters, mountain scenes from the coastline of Valencia, patios in middle-class homes, eixides or family gardens in the Mediterranean. Santiago Rusiñol (1922) states that the art of gardening is fundamental to judge the character of an age and in his gardens, achieves the artistic synthesis he had long searched for: “Painting, architecture, sculpture, gardening, music, and literature are completely integrated in the images of gardens in their essence, stripped of any referential, geographical or physical meaning to become, simply, the gardens of Santiago Rusiñol’s soul” (Casacuberta 1999, 19). Thus, the abandoned garden provides the setting and material for a “total work of art,” the culmination of a romantic ideal expressed in the new century’s emerging artistic trends. Nevertheless, there is certainly a background of critique and a desire for regeneration which links these works to the spirit of ’98. Rusiñol’s gardens aspire to stir consciences, like the paintings by Regoyos or Zuloaga, albeit through different means and with a different artistic sensibility. Despite their aesthetic dissimilarity, Rusiñol’s melancholic offerings, like Zuloaga’s works, provided an alternative to the exotic viewpoint still imposed from abroad. Manuel Orozco places Rusiñol within the Generation of ’98 both for his love of traveling and for revealing Spain in its essence, as did Isaac Albéniz and Miguel de Unamuno. His vision is one of “the still-romantic Spain with the gardens and fountains of the Alhambra, Aranjuez, Víznar, Cataluña, Castilla . . . Spain, at the end of the day. Spain with flowers” (Orozco 2001, 31). Francesc Fontbona, however, encounters a touch of bitterness in Rusiñol’s gardens, a genuine eulogy to lost wealth, the longing for a green and fertile Spain now transformed into barren drylands. He compares this perspective with that of the Generation of ’98, which Rusiñol expresses symbolically: “the surviving gardens were all that remained of that lost prosperity and from this collapse the painter-poet extracted, more than a salutary regenerationist, a profound aesthetic sentiment” (Fontbona 1999, 115). Unfortunately, the progressive standardization of Rusiñol’s paintings, which secured him huge commercial success towards the end of his career, gave his artwork a formulaic feel which was to devalue his garden paintings until relatively recently. Casacuberta lists the ingredients of this formula: Symmetry, the vanishing point consistently in the center of the canvass; tree lines blocking any view of what is beyond the garden, the horizon or even the sky; fountains, barely trickling; broken-down balustrades; lifeless, glassy waters; flowers in the foreground; the last rays of sunshine, struggling their way into the garden; the essential cypress trees; a palette of greens, ochres and browns; these, certainly, are the features combined almost ad infinitum (Casacuberta 1999, 17).

Symmetry and equilibrium in terms of composition, common to almost all his gardens, transmit a desire for harmony, repose, and contemplative priva-


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cy. According to Eliseo Trenc, this is a subjective art form, “a reinterpretation of nature, no longer the infinite and overwhelming nature of the romantics, but an idealized nature, an intimate space for contemplation and inner reflection. Essentially, for Rusiñol, the garden is an escape, a refuge from the modern, industrialized world which he rejects” (Trenc 1998, 222). For this reason, these are closed, inward-looking spaces where life and time transpire regardless of the outside world. The most representative examples are his views of the cloister at Tarragona Cathedral (La Fuente del Claustro, La Gran Fuente del Claustro, 1897), or any of his gardens in Granada. In these paintings, nature has defeated man, claiming for itself “the artist’s pictorial space to finally become the theme and central motif of the work, whatever the pictorial setting may be” (Panyella 2007, 144). REGENERATIONIST FEATURES IN RUSIÑOL’S GARDENS Around 1900, the influence of regenerationism and discontent with Spain’s political climate reaches the most significant modernist authors. In fact, the modernist garden’s “manifesto”—Rusiñol’s Jardines de España—has been interpreted from this viewpoint on a number of occasions. According to Margarida Casacuberta, in El Jardí Abandonat “any discord between decadentism and regenerationism” is resolved: hero, intellectual and artist—Aurora’s suitors—are typically symbolist figures, but they are also “those responsible for regenerating the uneducated and retrograde society which, unperturbed, has let the old, stately gardens ‘die’ and, incapable of recognizing their worth, has squandered their artistic treasures” (Trenc 1998, 222). This regenerationist reading is supported, Casacuberta claims, by the setting for El Jardín Abandonado in what may be the Víznar Palace, painted by Rusiñol during one of his first artistic journeys to Andalusia. Those journeys would lead to Jardines de España, the pinnacle of Rusiñol’s career as a painter and fruit of his collaboration with a good number of different writers. Jardins de Espanya first appeared in Barcelona in 1903, in the form of an album containing reproductions of forty works by Rusiñol, painted during his first stays in Granada and Mallorca (1895–1898). Poetic commentaries by Miquel dels Sants Oliver, Joan Alcover, and Gabriel Alomar, all from Mallorca, and by the Catalan writers Apeles Mestres, Miquel Costa y Llobera, E. Guanyabéns, F. Matéu, and Joan Maragall accompanied Rusiñol’s images. The work was exceptionally well received and, as a result, a second edition was published in Seville in 1914, expanded to include texts in Castilian Spanish by Azorín, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Ramón Pérez de Ayala and Eduardo Marquina, among others. All of them take inspiration from Rusiñol’s visual artwork which, in this case, deals principally with

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gardens in Granada and Mallorca, along with a range of other locations in Aranjuez, Sitges, Barcelona, Valencia, and La Granja. These images illustrate Rusiñol’s concern to represent an overall idea of Spain, while at the same time protesting its decline. From this specific viewpoint, gardens are a clear metonym for Spain’s historical, political, and cultural situation at that time. A Spain in marked decline which has lost all of its former splendor” (Casacuberta 1999, 13) like its historic gardens. Santiago Rusiñol knows that the art of gardening requires “the joy of the age and the prosperity of men,” of men that “are no longer for poetry, nor is the age for magnificence, so the verses written in gardens become overrun with prose foliage across this unforgiving land of Spain” (Rusiñol 1914, 1). Rusiñol’s vocabulary, in Casacuberta’s opinion, is characteristic of regenerationist discourse in that it speaks of a landscape that is “barren,” “solitary,” “sterile,” “endless,” and “harsh,” a landscape in prose, as opposed to the poetry of the gardens. Nostalgia for their former splendor and sorrow at their current decadence is evident throughout the prologue: “Now the sun has set on that summer’s afternoon and, since flowers endure less than plants, those gardens passed away before Spain had even felt their pain.” (Rusiñol 1914, 1–3). José María Balcells (1982, 305) compares Rusiñol’s idea with “Nebrija’s famous phrase and the saying ‘gardens are fellows of empire,’ suggesting that political decline would cast gardens into mortal agony.” However, Rusiñol invites hope in a possible “regeneration” of Spanish gardens, called to rise from their ashes by the evocative creations of poets and painters. Pessimism at the decadent state of Spanish gardens is transformed, in Rusiñol, into symbolist, poetic nostalgia: “But what exquisite agony! What splendid shedding of leaves and petals, and what majesty as they fall! . . . The old gardens were dying, but they died with such nobility that from their death a new poetry took seed: the poetry of fallen greatness” (Rusiñol 1914, 3). For this reason, the author closes by urging readers to visit these gardens before they completely disappear: “If you still wish to see—oh poet!—these last remaining flowers and these last remaining gardens, then make haste, as soon they will have vanished” (Rusiñol 1914, 4). Even the trees themselves, according to Rusiñol, suffer the idleness and ignorance that is destroying Spanish gardens. In 1915, the artist speaks out in defense of the cypress tree, whose “extermination” he interprets in a nationalistic tone: “nowadays, that so much is said to our people about patriotic sentiment, according to my patriotism, the cypress tree is so important that each one felled is like a root of our home torn out” (Rusiñol 1915, 2). In the Seville edition of Jardines de España, a number of poems reiterate this “patriotic” interpretation of old gardens: the conservationist Eduardo Marquina, for example, finishes his with an ardent call to regenerate the nation:


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“full of love for life, young men and women, in a new land of Spain, plant new gardens to grow!” (Marquina 1914, 15–16). CONCLUSION The relevance of Jardines de España is evidenced, then, by their capacity to inspire other artists, as was the case with Manuel de Falla, and their continued presence in leading magazines of the day. Andrés González Blanco writes in 1907 about Rusiñol’s spiritual artwork, with its Greek and Gothic roots, that “though still within its country and its time, extends its circle of influence far beyond” (210). In 1916, Margarita Nelken writes a very favorable review of Rusiñol’s work in Summa magazine, and even in 1931, Gimé nez Caballero’s Gaceta Literaria publishes a selection of his poems (Azorín et al. 1931, 9). Of most fundamental significance, however, is the work’s new vision of gardens as “modos” (“modes”) or “estados del alma” (“states of the soul”) as Ramón Pérez de Ayala expressed it in the poem he dedicated to the artist (1914, 20). Many authors offered their own perspectives on the Spanish garden, different in content and structure to modernist contributions, but with an identical motive: to find in gardens a cultural significance, a feature of collective identity. In any case, the fact is that many of Rusiñol’s contemporaries, from very dissimilar styles and ideologies, understood Jardines de España in a regenerationist sense. The widespread dissemination of these ideas, at the dawn of the twentieth century, initiated the recovery of this cultural heritage; a recovery that owed as much to the concerns raised by artists (painters, writers, landscape designers) as to the actions of nature. In reclaiming the place it deserves, nature invades the space shaped by men and, at the same time, draws attention to the deterioration of cultural treasures (historic gardens) that require ongoing care. This cry for help, so well portrayed by Santiago Rusiñol, not only provided the perfect symbol for Spain’s protracted social and political decline but also marked the starting point for the recovery of Spain’s garden heritage. Another painter, Javier de Winthuysen, recognized Rusiñol’s impact as a pioneer, an inspiration for what would become a genuine personal crusade in favor of Spain’s historic gardens. And it was de Winthuysen, in fact, who took that first step from poetry to action, championing a complex restoration process which continues to this day. REFERENCES Alcover, Joan. 1903. “La Reliquia.” Pel & Ploma IV, no. 100 (December): 368.

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Antich, Xavier. 1999. “El Paisaje en Verso, el Espacio de la Contemplación.” In Santiago Rusiñol. Los Jardines del Alma, edited by Margarida Casacuberta, 21–27. Gerona and Segovia: Fundación Caixa de Girona and Caja Segovia Obra Social y Cultural. Azorín, et al. 1931. “Flores Líricas de los Jardines de Rusiñol: Azorín, Díez–Canedo, Francisco A. de Icaza, Gregorio Martínez Sierra, R. Pérez de Ayala, Juan Ramón Jiménez.” Gaceta literaria, V, no. 109 (July 1): 9. Balcells, José María. “Jardines Abandonados de Juan Ramón.” Boletín de la Biblioteca de Menéndez Pelayo LVIII (January–December 1982): 303. Casacuberta, Margarida. 1999. “Los Jardines del Alma de Santiago Rusiñol.” In Santiago Rusiñol. Los Jardines del Alma, edited by Margarida Casacuberta, 9–19. Gerona and Segovia: Fundación Caixa de Girona and Caja Segovia Obra Social y Cultural. Casanovas, Francesc. 1900. “Salón Parés. Jardines de Espa ña de Santiago Rusiñol.” La Publicidad (November 3): 1–2. Costa y Llobera, Miguel. 1903. “Villa”, Pel & Ploma IV, no. 100 (December): 369. Díez–Canedo, Enrique. 1907. “[Santiago Rusiñol]. La Pintura.” Renacimiento, no. 6 (August): 125. Fontbona, Francesc. 1999. “El Jardín en la Pintura Catalana Modernista.” In Jardines de Espa ña (1870–1936), edited by Lily Litvak, 111–121. Madrid: Fundación Cultural MAPFRE Vida. González Blanco, Andrés. 1907. “Santiago Rusiñol. Los Libros.” Renacimiento, no. 6 (August): 210. Granados, Enrique. 1902. “Del Poema Sinfónic Boires Baixes: Fragment, Naixement de les Boires”. Pel & Ploma III, no. 85 (February): 274. Labajos, Luciano, and Luis Ramón–Laca. 2007. Jardinería Tradicional en Madrid. Madrid: Real Jardín Botánico/CSIC/Ediciones La Librería. Laplana, Josep de C. 1999. “Los Jardines de Santiago Rusiñol.” In Jardines de España (1870–1936), edited by Lily Litvak, 51–69. Madrid: Fundación Cultural MAPFRE Vida. Laplana, Josep de C. 1995. Santiago Rusiñol. El Pintor, l’Home. Barcelona: Publicacions Abadia de Montserrat. Litvak, Lily. 1991. El Tiempo de los Trenes. El Paisaje Español en el Arte y la Literatura del Realismo (1849–1918). Barcelona: Ediciones del Serbal. ———. 1999. “El Jardín en la Pintura Española de 1870 a 1936.” In Jardines de España (1870–1936), edited by Lily Litvak, 13–49. Madrid: Fundación Cultural MAPFRE Vida. ———. 2000. “El Jardín Abandonado. El Tema del Viejo Parque en Pintura y Literatura.” Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Serie VII, Hª del Arte, t. 13 (2000): 487. ———. 2001. “Del Jardín Andaluz al Mito Mediterráneo en las Novelas de Juan Valera.” In Prosa y Poesía: Homenaje a Gonzalo Sobejano, edited by Christopher Maurer et al., 199–209. Madrid: Gredos. Marquina, Eduardo. 1914. “Los Jardines de España (A Santiago Rusiñol).” In Jardines de España, texts and pictures by Santiago Rusiñol, 15–16. Sevilla: Renacimiento. Matheu, F. 1903. “A Dins d’Aquests Jardins . . .” Pel & Ploma IV, no. 100 (December): 367. Oliver, M. S. 1903. “El Castell Buit.” Pel & Ploma IV, no. 100 (December): 366. Orozco, Manuel. 2001. “Santiago Rusiñol y la Granada Intersecular.” In Santiago Rusiñol en Granada: La Visió n Simbolista, edited by Vinyet Panyella, 31–34. Granada: Museo Casa de los Tiros. Ors, Eugenio d’. 1902. “Boires–Baixes: Poema den Joseph Mª Roviralta i den Lluis Bonnin.” Pel & Ploma III, no. 85 (February): 260–269. Panyella, Vinyet. 1999. “De los Jardines de la Alhambra al Jardín Abandonado.” In Santiago Rusiñol. Los Jardines del Alma, edited by Margarida Casacuberta, 39–48. Gerona and Segovia: Fundación Caixa de Girona and Caja Segovia Obra Social y Cultural. Panyella, Vinyet. 2007. Santiago Rusiñol: Paisatges i Amistats. Tarragona: Diputació de Tarragona/Museu d’Art Modern. Pérez de Ayala, Ramón. 1914. “Jardines.” In Jardines de España, texts and pictures by Santiago Rusiñol, 20. Sevilla: Renacimiento.


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Persia, Jorge de. 2003. “Jardín, Paisaje y Música en el Pensamiento Artístico en Tiempos de Rusiñol.” In Música y jardines, edited by Alfredo Aracil, 155–175. Granada: Archivo Manuel de Falla. Quesada Dorador, Eduardo. 2005. Paisajes de Granada de José María Rodríguez Acosta. Granada: Fundación Rodríguez Acosta. Quesada Dorador, Eduardo, and Yolanda Romero Gómez, eds. 1998. Federico García Lorca y Granada. Madrid: Fundación Federico García Lorca. Roviralta, Joseph Mª. 1902. “Boires–Baixes: Poema den Joseph Mª Roviralta i den Lluis Bonnin.” Pel & Ploma III, no. 85 (February): 269–271. Rusiñol, Santiago (lyrics); Gay, Joan (music). 1900. “El Jardí Abandonat (final).” Pel & Ploma vol. 83, no. 45 (April): 3. Rusiñol, Santiago. 1895. “Cartas de Andalucía. II. El Generalife.” Barcelona: La Vanguardia (November 28). ———. 1895. “Cartas de Andalucía. V. Los Cármenes de Granada.” La Vanguardia (December 25). ———. 1902. El Jardín Abandonado: Cuadro Poemático en un Acto. S. l.: L’Avenç. ———. 1903. Jardins d’Espanya. Barcelona: Cân Thomas. ———. 1912. “¡¡Un Jardí a València!!” L’Esquella de la Torratxa (March 8): 167. ———. 1914. Jardines de España. Sevilla: Renacimiento. ———. 1915. “Paradojas de un Español.” España. Semanario no. 8 (March 19): 2. ———. 1922. “Los Cármenes de Granada.” Arquitectura IV no. 39 (July): 307–308 [first edition: Barcelona: La Vanguardia (25 December 1895)]. ———. 1925. La Isla de la Calma. Barcelona: Antonio López. ———. 1973. “El Jardí Abandonat (Quadro Poemàtic en un Acte).” In Obres completes. Vol. 1, Novel-lesiteatre, 437–447. Barcelona: Selecta. ———. 1999. Desde el Molino: Impresiones de un Viaje a París en 1894. Barcelona: Parsifal. Trenc Ballester, Eliseo. 1998. “Los Jardines de España de Santiago Rusiñol, Imágenes del Jardín Finisecular, Decadentismo y Musicalidad.” In El jardín como arte, edited by Javier Maderuelo, 207–224. Huesca: Diputación de Huesca. Valle–Inclán, Ramón del. 1902. “Modernismo.” La Ilustración Española y Americana (February 22): 114.

Part II

Empowering Nature Transcending Anthropocentrism in the Anthropocene

Chapter Six

Welcoming Cosmos A Comparative Study of Narrative, Nature, and Cosmopolitanism in The Wall and Pond Hande Gurses

The English language has many words that refer to the state of being alone: loneliness, isolation, solitude, and lonesomeness. These words, albeit with subtle differences and degrees of intensity, explain a deprivation of the company of others. Cosmopolitan, on the other hand, implies a multiplicity of people, languages, and geographies; it denotes movement with ease across these differences. As such solitude and cosmopolitanism appear to be on the distinct sides of the spectrum since cosmopolitanism by definition requires more than one person. The two novels I discuss in this chapter, The Wall (1963) by Marlen Haushofer and Pond (2015) by Claire-Louise Bennett undermine this assumption and offer cosmopolitanisms that are constituted by solitude. Looking at the etymological roots of the word cosmos, Bruce Robbins states that before referring to the totality of the world, cosmos meant: simply “order” or “adornment”—as in cosmetics—and was only later extended metaphorically to refer to “the world.” Cosmetic preceded totality. Worlding, then, might be seen as “making up” the face of the planet—something that can be done in diverse ways (Robbins 1998, 253).

What Robbins terms the worlding, in the two novels that I discuss, takes the form of representation, an attempt to produce meaning. Both novels depict how the solitary protagonist/narrators make up a world of their own through language. Using distinct narratological and contextual elements, both novels invite the reader to inhabit a world that they create by a process of represen79


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tation. It is in this process of representation that the two novels offer an experience of cosmopolitanism that is not restricted to multiplicity and movement but one that can and needs to be envisioned by the self-contained anthropocentricism. Cosmopolitanism for The Wall and Pond becomes a desperate attempt at worlding, by producing a meaningful cosmology that they can then inhabit. Rather than presenting mobility and crowds, the two novels explore the power of language within claustrophobic settings. It is in their stable and firmly defined grounds that the two narratives explore a new cosmopolitanism that is not dependent on physical movement but rather encompasses a quest for meaning. THE BORDERS OF THE WALL Thomas Nail in his comprehensive study on the various forms that borders may take indicates that “ancient borders were not defined by fixed lines on a map but by political power” (Nail 2016, 65). Walls, according to Nail, emerge as a result of the political life that is intrinsically tied to the city (the polis). With the emergence of the city as the source of centralized power, there also emerged the need to protect the borders of the city with walls. According to Nail “politics required the city, and the city required the wall” (Nail 2016, 65), making the wall geographically peripheral yet structurally central in the definition and protection of sovereignty. I suggest that The Wall while revolving around the appearance of a wall, also structurally and thematically contains a surrounding wall. I will, therefore, begin by looking at the establishment and operation of this narratological wall and then move inside the wall to discuss its impact on the exploration of a new cosmopolitanism. Marlen Haushofer’s dystopian novel The Wall offers a distinct approach to the political centrality of the wall by taking it outside the urban domain. The new setting of the wall not only questions the centrality of the city in politics but also envisions a new politics of the wall that defies the “centrifugal or centralized social motion that is political in the kinetic sense in which it emerged alongside politics” (Nail 2016, 65). The nameless narrator of The Wall accepts an invitation from her cousin Luise and her husband Hugo to spend a few days at their hunting lodge in the mountains. Upon their arrival Luise and Hugo decide to take a walk to the village, leaving the narrator alone in the lodge. Tired by the day’s journey, after having dinner and reading the newspaper, the narrator retreats to bed early. In the morning, she wakes up to an empty house, as there doesn’t seem to be any trace of Luise or Hugo around. Worried, she goes out and starts walking in the direction of the village, accompanied by Hugo’s dog Lynx. Soon after, they bump into a transparent wall that constitutes the new boun-

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dary of their existence. The novel doesn’t provide any explanation regarding the conditions that brought the wall into existence, nor does it provide any hints as to how or when it might disappear. While the novel is indifferent to the causes that brought the wall into appearance, the wall itself receives more specific attention. Unlike conventional walls that consist of “standardized, divided, and symbolized measurement of human and territorial flows (the brick) and the organized assembly of these bricks into a continuous surface (the stack) ” (Nail 2016, 68) The Wall presents a wall that is monolithic, boundless, sturdy, and transparent. Baffled, I stretched out my hand and touched something smooth and cool: a smooth, cool resistance where there could be nothing but air. I tentatively tried again, and once more my hand rested on something like a window-pane . . . there really was something invisible, smooth and cool blocking my path. I thought it might be a hallucination, but of course I knew that it was nothing of the kind. I could have coped much more easily with a momentary insanity than with this terrible, invisible thing (Haushofer 1990, 8).

The transparent wall operates in two ways: first, it implies the other “invisible” wall that separates humans from non-human animals, namely the barrier of language. Secondly, given the novel’s contemporary world, it refers to the post-war Germany and the eventual building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. Aside from its transparency the wall operates like a conventional wall in the sense that it limits, bounds, and confines the narrator’s existence. Its transparency allows the narrator to observe the world that now remains outside the bounds of the wall, which appear to be frozen in time. From her observations, it is understood that there does not appear to be any environmental catastrophe since everything looks normal but unmoving. I closed my eyes and waited, then looked again. The clean old man still stood motionless. I now saw that his knees and his left hand were resting on the edge of the stone trough . . . No smoke rose from the chimney . . . I beat on the wall with my fist. It hurt a little, but nothing happened. And suddenly I no longer felt any desire to break down the wall separating me from the incomprehensible thing that had happened to the old man by the spring (Haushofer 1990, 10).

The outside world that the narrator observes through the transparent wall remains frozen in time. Given the political and cultural European context of the 1960s, the narrator’s reluctance to join that world implies her desire for a new political order. Unable to be part of the existing political order, the narrator is presented with an alternative world where she can explore a nonanthropocentric cosmology as well as a new sense of community. The claustrophobic setting that is created with the wall is also reflected in the experience of temporality. Temporal references mark the boundaries of the


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narrative at the beginning and the end. The opening section of the novel marks the time using conventional methods of measurement. This precision is however immediately recanted: Today, the fifth of November, I shall begin my report. I shall set everything down as precisely as I can. But I don’t even know if today really is the fifth of November. Over the course of the past winter I’ve lost track of a few days. I can’t even say what day of the week it is. But I don’t think that’s very important (Haushofer 1990, 1).

Despite this self-erasure and the introduction of a cyclical and natural experience of time throughout the narrative that is mainly determined by the changing seasons, the sunrise and the sunset, the narrator concludes the narrative with yet another precise reference to time. Today, the twenty–fifth of February, I shall end my report. There isn’t a single sheet of paper left. It’s now around five o’clock in the evening, and already so light that I can write without the lamp (Haushofer 1990, 244).

Why, then, despite the irrelevance of measurable linear time, does the narrator still hold on to such an exact and quantifiable account of time? Even while acknowledging the inaccuracy of this information, why does the narrator still prefer to share these with the reader? The answer to these questions lies in the recurrent metafictional references. In both the opening and closing sections, the narrator alludes to the creation process of the report; she marks the dates as the beginning and end of her report. As the opening section acknowledges, the beginning of the narrative does not coincide with the appearance of the wall. It is understood, and later on in the novel confirmed, that the narrator starts keeping a journal not immediately but only after the deaths of her dog and calf. This is significant because it shows how during the time preceding the writing of the journal the narrator did not need to resort to writing, to the use of language; in other words, she did not need to create a meaningful cosmology. Her solitary existence in the company of the animals did not require her to resort to language. Language in the form of the journal makes an appearance only with the introduction of violence through another human being. A man that the narrator spots from a distance brutally murders Lynx and the calf that Bella had. Unable to save Lynx the narrator shots the man with her pistol. Although no interaction takes place between the narrator and this mysterious man, the mere fact of his presence introduces an inexplicable act of violence within the confines of the wall. This violence is not limited to the killing of the animals but also continues its reverberations as it forces the narrator to write the journal. As she acknowledges in the closing pages of the narrative, she only decides to write the report in an attempt to make sense of this seemingly pointless act of violence.

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When winter came in November, I decided to write this report. It was my last resort. I couldn’t spend the whole winter sitting at the table with that one question in my head, a question that no human being, nobody at all in the world, can answer (Haushofer 1990, 243).

The narrator acknowledges that she only turned to language as a means to generate meaning, to make intelligible the otherwise unintelligible violence introduced by another human being. Her cosmology prior to the introduction of the violence does not need language since there is no need for a worlding, for cosmetics. During her existence prior to writing, there is no violence and no need for language. It is only when another human being introduces violence that the narrator needs to create a cosmology that would then allow her to create meaning. Consequently, the narrator establishes the boundaries of her narrative by referring to the writing process at the beginning and ending of her narrative. The logics behind the creation of the narrative, therefore, mark its boundaries separating it from the non-anthropocentric cosmology that existed prior to the introduction of language. INSIDE THE WALL On the extradiegetic and intradiegetic levels, the novel explores distinct approaches to cosmopolitanism. As we have seen in the above section the boundaries of the narrative on the extradiegetic and metatextual level focus on the production and representation of meaning as a way to inhabit the world. Whereas the intradiegetic level of the narrative, depicting the quotidian existence of the narrator alongside her companions, explores alternative methods of cohabitation, production, consumption, and forming relations. The narrator’s company within the wall consists of Lynx the dog, Pearl the cat, and Bella the cow. The specific breed of domesticated animals chosen for her company undermines the otherwise non-anthropocentric gesture of the narrative. These animals, that conveniently offer company while also producing other essentials, like milk, create an anthropocentric setting in which the narrator can comfortably survive. One only wonders what kind of community would be possible if one of the animals were to be replaced by a crocodile or a giraffe. Even the dystopian setting of the narrative doesn’t venture into such extravagant fantasy, keeping the animals within the realm of the domesticated, human-friendly ones. The other that the novel envisions emerges as a domesticated other, reinforcing a colonial fantasy of mastery over the uncivilized other. Having said that the narrator’s new community that comprised of animals, forces her to address questions regarding her humanity and its relevance in her current setting. The constitution of the polis by a community of brothers is also called into question within this new setting where the narrator is the only human


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being. In this new community, she is forced to question the already existing binary foundations of the Western metaphysical tradition and to develop a new paradigm allocating distinct roles to the members of the community. Jacques Derrida, in his treatise of the animal, highlights the significant role that brotherhood plays in the definition of politics resulting in the creation of a fraternity that is defined by both the familiar and the familial. Given that the political is organized around this familiarity, Derrida raises the question of the animal as a potential to explore the role of the other within this structure of familiarity. Wholly other, like the (every) other that is (every bit) other found in such intolerable proximity that I do not yet feel I am justified or qualified to call it my fellow, even less my brother. For we shall have to ask ourselves, inevitably, what happens to the fraternity of brothers when an animal enters the scene (Derrida 2002, 381).

The animal, although as a familiar, domesticated animal, does enter the scene of The Wall and invites the narrator to question her existing forms of relating. The templates that the narrator uses appear to be based on the conventions of the Western metaphysical tradition, reinforcing already existing binaries such as human/non-human, master/slave, etc. When the narrator comes across the cow, she acknowledges the new power dynamic that emerges, which is much more complex than a mere binary opposition: An animal like this wants to be fed and milked, and needs a settled master. I was the owner and the prisoner of a cow. But even if I hadn’t wanted the cow I couldn’t have left her behind. She was dependent on me (Haushofer 1990, 24).

The narrator’s dependence on the animals is not limited to her physical needs but also includes her emotional needs. Both the dog and the cat provide her with company and emotional support, which further complicates the absolute sovereignty of the narrator. As she acknowledges, Pearl the cat, proves to be indispensable to her existence not because she provides nutrition but rather for her role as emotional support. Maybe the cat knows me better than I know myself, and know what I could be capable of. . . . In fact, however, I depend on her more than she does on me. I can speak to her, stroke her, and her warmth seeps across my palms into my body and comforts me. I don’t think the cat needs me as desperately as I need her (Haushofer 1990, 40).

Similar to her connection to the cow, the narrator establishes a bond with the cat that exceeds the conventional hierarchies of a binary opposition. This interdependence complicates her position as the absolute sovereign. As the only human being within the wall, the narrator has absolute power over the

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lives of the animals around her, yet she also relies on them for company and nutrition and therefore her power is one that can never be executed. Her power exists only as a potential power. Unable to distinguish herself from the animals ontologically or politically, the narrator faces a dilemma, as she is unable to define her humanity in contrast to the animality of her community. She reflects her inner conflict as follows: “Not that I’m afraid of becoming an animal. That wouldn’t be too bad, but a human being can never become just an animal; he plunges beyond into the abyss.” (Haushofer 1990, 34) While she contemplates the crossing of a border between the human and the animal, the narrator acknowledges that such a transition is never possible, therefore once again confirming her status as distinct from the other members of her community. Although these ambiguities that the narrator expresses regarding the boundary between the human and the animal may hint at a more egalitarian power structure, the narrator’s command of the narrative through her perspective and mastery of language undermines such a reading. The narrator chooses to refrain from revealing her name to the readers as explains her decision as follows: It occurs to me that I haven’t written down my name. I had almost forgotten it, and that’s how it’s going to stay. No one calls me by that name, so it no longer exists. Neither would I like it if my name were one day perhaps to appear in the victors’ magazines (Haushofer 1990, 35).

The narrator’s power is not limited to her decision to keep her name to herself but also extends to her naming of the animals. By giving the animals their names, with the exception of Lynx who was already named by his previous owner Hugo, the narrator emerges as the sovereign power who can “identify without allowing themselves to be identified” (Derrida 2009, 6). Naming, in other words, operates similar to the introduction of language with the narrator’s journal; it wasn’t needed before the presence of another human being: I thought of a name for my cow, and called her Bella. It didn’t fit with the landscape, but it was short and sonorous. The cow soon understood that she was now called Bella, and turned her head when I called her . . . Actually she wouldn’t have needed a name at all, as she was the only cow in the forest, perhaps the only cow in the region (Haushofer 1990, 29).

Similarly, the narrator exercises her sovereignty to determine her ontological category. Despite previously having firmly established a human/non-human distinction, the narrator asserts that she gradually loses her distinguishing features and becomes one with the fauna that is surrounding her.


Hande Gurses I lost the awareness of being a woman. My body, more skillful than myself, had adapted itself and limited the burdens of my femininity to a minimum . . . I was very old, sexless creature . . . I’m not ugly, but neither am I attractive, more like a tree than a person, a tough brown branch that needs its whole strength to survive (Haushofer 1990, 68).

As indicated in the above passage, the narrator is the only one within the wall who can easily move across ontological divisions thanks to her command of language. Depending on what is convenient the narrator can either firmly acknowledge a separation between species or as is the case in the above quotation, can through a self–erasing gesture become a tree. Under the restricted physical conditions of The Wall this gesture provides an instance of trans–species mobility bringing up the question of cosmopolitanism. Unlike the borders of human communities, the borders separating plants, animals, and landscapes appear to be much more fluid and permeable allowing the narrator to easily cast aside her humanity. The narrator’s control over the direction of this movement is yet another evidence of her sovereign power. When it comes to the politics of this new community, she prefers to resort to the familiar and familial and introduces a paradigm of kinship. In an effort to capture the complex and uncanny nature of this interdependent social arrangement in a new political and aesthetic discourse the narrator resorts to the family structure as she compares her new multi–species community to a family. Observing Lynx’s protective instincts towards the cow Bella she comes to the conclusion that for Lynx, Bella “was a member of the family or the gang, and he would have gone for any aggressor to protect her.” (Haushofer 1990, 41) Within this trans-species kinship structure, the narrator is yet again allocated a superior role as she feels “like the head of our curious family” (Haushofer 1990, 37). Within the confines of the wall and in the absence of other human beings, “the wholly other” becomes a member of the family, though the narrative abstains from introducing the notion of brotherhood. Eventually, the narrator extends the borders of this family so that it is not limited to the animals but also encompasses her, in a maternal role. The barriers between animal and human come down very easily. We belong to a single great family, and if we are lonely and unhappy we gladly accept the friendship of our distant relations. They suffer as we do if pain is inflicted on them, and like myself they need food, warmth and a little tenderness. Incidentally, my affection has very little to do with understanding. In my dreams I bring children into the world, and they aren’t only human children; there are cats among them, dogs, calves, bears and quite peculiar furry creatures. But they emerge from me, and there is nothing about them that could frighten of repel me. It only looks off-putting when I write it down, in human writing and human words (Haushofer 1990, 207).

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The family template, without addressing the complexity of their relations in terms of interdependency and modes of production and consumption, allows the narrator to eliminate the wall separating her from the animals. Distinct from the brotherhood structure, this new family structure consists of a broad and unspecific “distant relations” yet allocates the narrator to a maternal position where she gives life to the other members of that family. This new social structure appears to function seamlessly until it is expressed in language. POND Claire-Louise Bennett’s first novel Pond similarly explores cosmopolitanism through isolation. The novel comprises of twenty chapters of various lengths that depict the seemingly mundane details with microscopic precision. The details of the narrator’s everyday life in a coastal village include the ingredients of the ideal porridge or the staple accessories of a kitchen. Pond exhibits its affinity with The Wall by mirroring certain narratological strategies, including a nameless female narrator, an undisclosed rural setting, and a discomforting level of solitude. The fragmented structure of the narrative presents the reader with chapters that do not necessarily follow a thematic order but appear to be randomly brought together as a result of the narrator’s ruminations. The solitude in Pond, however, distinct from The Wall does not emerge from dystopian conditions but appears to be a personal choice by the narrator who rarely interacts with others. When and if another human being makes an appearance in Pond it usually takes the form of the narrator’s inner conversations or memories. The titular pond that is near the narrator’s house operates as a metaphor for the narrator’s insular existence that rarely interacts with other but nevertheless contains a life of its own. Unlike a wall that physically separates vertically, a pond exists on a horizontal axis and is rarely considered to be a separating border–like structure. A pond reflects the narrative’s structural and thematic elements by presenting a fluid consistency within itself yet remaining distinctly separate from its surroundings, refusing to blend in. The narrative’s unique and fragmented chapters present the reader with the inner thoughts of the narrator to its minutest detail while keeping her world and the narrative’s world distinctly separate from any outside connection. Very much like the actual pond, the narrative invites the reader to a self-contained world where meaning is generated and produced within its own waters. The selfreferential world that the novel creates is depicted by a reference to the operation of signs in relation to the pond in a passage where the narrator explains her dislike of a warning sign next to the pond that says:


Hande Gurses She must have made me a cup of tea anyhow, before she went off to place a cautionary notice next to the pond—which, by the way, has absolutely no depth whatsoever. If it were left up to me I wouldn’t put a sign next to a pond saying pond, either I’d write something else, such as Pig Swill, or I wouldn’t bother at all . . . One sets off to investigate you see, to develop the facility to really notice things so that, over time, and with enough practice, one becomes attuned to the earth’s embedded logos and can experience the enriching joy of moving about in deep and direct accordance with things. Yet invariably this vital process is abruptly thwarted by an idiotic overlay of literal designations and inane alerts so that the whole terrain is obscured and inaccessible . . . How will I ever make myself at home here if there are always these meddlesome scaremongering sings everywhere I go (Bennett 2015, 36).

The narrator’s comments on the sign operate on two distinct levels here; firstly it proposes a non-anthropocentric frame of reference where the signs are not merely provided for other humans but rather other species who also inhabit the same environment. The narrator’s suggestion that the indication on the sign be “pig swill” implies an alternative to what Derrida calls carno–phallogocentrism (Derrida 1991, 113), a world organized with a nonanthropocentric structure. The second gesture of this passage is towards cosmopolitanism as the narrator expresses a desire to be “at home here” implying not merely a specific country, city, region, or national territory, but rather a more global state of inhabiting the world, an ecocosmopolitanism (Heise 2008) of sorts. Unlike the narrator of The Wall, who claimed to become a tree through a self–erasing gesture, the narrator of Pond offers a less assertive tone by suggesting that her presence is not immediately welcome but that it requires a new arrangement of the already existing frameworks of meaning. I argue that Pond, through the depiction of the narrator’s physical solitude and through its stylistic features, provides a new cosmology that is structured by the absence of a carno-phallogocentric world of meaning. The cosmopolitanism that the reader experiences in the novel is one of a perpetual self–erasure where meaning is constantly evasive. It is in that unsettling cosmology that the novel explores a non-anthropocentric cosmopolitanism that eludes a desire to produce and obtain meaning. The novel’s focus on language as a form of cosmopolitanism is striking because it refuses to welcome the reader to an enclosed system of meaning production. Once such instance occurs when the narrator refers to the English language: English, strictly speaking is not my first language by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all (Bennett 2015, 41).

The narrator perpetually refutes her previous statements thus preventing the reader from reaching a final and absolute meaning. While writing in English

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she claims that it is not her first language and that her first language could never be written down. Addressing the primary distinction between human and non-human species the narrator implies that she also has access to another form of language that does not require expression in the conventional ways that human language is expressed—i.e., writing. This other first language that cannot be written down remains beyond the reach of the reader thus casting a shadow over the meanings that are being produced with the language of the novel. The novel, therefore, does not extend to the reader a welcoming hand where meaning will be readily available but rather presents them with the discomfort of an always elusive meaning. This gesture of selferasure is not limited to the media used by the narrative but also is reflected in the content: I don’t know why I came to stop standing there and shut the door. Or maybe I didn’t shut the door. That’s more like it. I came to stop standing there, but I didn’t shut the door because—I remember now—being at the desk—I was sitting actually, sitting at the—sitting and looking out—it’s quite clear to me that that’s how it was. And perhaps what I thought was, it all looks very alive it might move—wouldn’t that be right—it will all move down this way and come in through the door, and perhaps in through the windows too. Perhaps I thought something like that, sitting there, at the desk, looking up outside (Bennett 2015, 165).

It is by constantly debunking herself that the narrator prevents the establishment of a firm meaning within the narrative, consequently preventing the emergence of a welcoming setting for the reader. In other words, the novel displaces the reader who is trying to locate meaning in the narrative. Pond doesn’t merely depict the narrator’s solitary existence but offers the reader an experience of the solitude through an absence of meaning. Unable to create a network of meaning within Pond the reader is invited to experience the discomfort of a non-anthropocentric cosmopolitanism. Throughout the narrative, there are a few references to other humans, yet these mostly appear either as memories or ruminations; rarely another human makes an appearance. Pond instead prefers to establish a literary community by making intertextual references to The Wall. During yet another instance of stream of consciousness the nameless narrator meditates on her oven knobs and remembers the particular scene in The Wall where the narrator was counting the matches that she had left. The narrator of Pond then goes on for a few more pages to critically discuss the novel and expresses her desire to join the world of The Wall. However, the profound existential and cosmological repercussions precipitated by such extraordinary isolation are also beautifully charted and it is quite impossible to stop reading because in a sense you want to go where she is


Hande Gurses going; you want to be undone in just the way she is being undone. Indeed, it is like a last daydream from childhood in many ways because hopefully the world for a child is mostly sticks and mountains and huge lone birds and as such almost all of childhood is taken up hopefully with just these kinds of boundless fantasies of danger and solitude (Bennett 2015, 89).

The nameless narrator of Pond thus establishes a community united in solitude. She desires to join the cosmology offered in The Wall because it provides an absolute solitude that would eliminate the subjectivity of the individual, making them one with their surrounding. Similar to the self-erasing strategies that she uses throughout the novel to prevent the emergence of a particular meaning, the narrator also makes evident her wish for self-erasure. She nevertheless, aspires to reach that self-erasure through the establishment of an intertextual community. While refusing the warm welcome of a cosmopolitan cosmology within her narrative, the narrator nevertheless exists in the company of another literary text thus through a broader structure of meaning production, even if that meaning only becomes possible as the absolute erasure of the individual alongside the carno-phallogocentric perspective. CONCLUSION The trope of solitude is used to explore distinct visions of cosmopolitanism in The Wall and Pond. Both narratives display narrator/protagonists who are not at home in their surroundings and as such turn to language as a way to create their own cosmology. The Wall hints at an ontologically diverse community that could exist in harmony yet that harmony is interrupted with the introduction of language. The narrator’s journal comes to being with a brutal act of violence and thus suggests the violence that marks all attempts to make sense. Pond, on the other hand, invites the reader to a cosmology that refuses to provide a home with identifiable meanings. The lonely cosmology of Pond forces the reader to experience a similar solitude in the absence of a world with meanings, in a setting where worlding is made impossible. In both narratives cosmopolitanism figures not as a movement across languages, borders, peoples but rather as an attempt to make one’s anthropocentric home through language by the production of meaning. Pond’s intertextual community with The Wall points to the inescapability of a community since as humans, we inevitably recreate our own cosmologies of language. The lonely humans of the two novels connect through their insatiable desire for meaning while paying the price for its violence and wishing for its beautiful poetry.

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REFERENCES Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ———. 2004. The Open: Man and Animal. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Bennett, Claire–Louise. 2015. Pond. New York: Riverhead Books. Breckenridge, A. Carol et al. ed. 2002. Cosmopolitanism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1991. “Eating Well.” In Who Comes After the Subject? edited by Eduardo Cadava et al. London and New York: Routledge. ———. 2002. “The Animal that Therefore I am (More to Follow).” Critical Inquiry, 28, no. 2 (Winter): 369–418. JSTOR ———. 2005. Politics of Friendship. New York: Verso. ———. 2009. The Beast and the Sovereign. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Frye, David. 2018. Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick. New York: Scribner. Haushofer, Marlen. 1990. The Wall. California: Cleis Press. Heise, K. Ursula. 2008. Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Nail, Thomas. 2016. Theory of the Border. New York: Oxford University Press. Robbins, Bruce. 1998. “Comparative Cosmopolitanisms.” In Cosmopolitics, edited by Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, 246–264. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Steiner, Gary. 2013. Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism. New York: Columbia University Press. Still, Judith. 2010. Derrida and Hospitality: Theory and Practice. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ———. 2015. Derrida and Other Animals: The Boundaries of the Human. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Chapter Seven

A Few Sockeyes and Dying Embers in What Is Left of the Forest Settler Culture and Changing Views of Nature in Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s Latest Novels Pedro Miguel Carmona

INTRODUCTION Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s novels Turtle Valley and The Spawning Grounds, published in 2007 and 2016, follow the path opened in 1996 by The Cure for Death by Lightning. 1 While Turtle Valley features the Weeks family saga, whose farmer generations extend from World War II to a present time of paired natural and personal decline, The Spawning Grounds is set in a neighboring area of similar natural catastrophe, native cultural annihilation, and myths of human possession haunting the Robertsons’ past and present. Whereas in their prequel the identity of the settler subject relies on asserting the mastery of nature, corseted in a position of other, in the last episodes of the trilogy nature turns into an agent of its own through fire and water, to display the wide range of human interventions that have modified its realm. If in Anderson-Dargatz’s 1996 novel, the colonization of the land was prevalent, its decolonization comes to the fore in its sequels, as humans flee from wild fires and flooding. Both narratives suggest the need of a revisionist attitude that relocates men and nature in a more sustainable coexistence fueled by changing views of nature in settler cultural lens. “For centuries the settler society thought it could dominate the non–human world,” Laurie Ricou asserts, to conclude that, “industrial and post–industrial societies thought it possible to destroy others’ habitat and still go on living” (2014, 162). 93


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Anderson-Dargatz’s latest fictions, conversely, argue against such an assumption. The title of this paper yokes contemporary ecological and ecocritical trends that denounce deprecating human interventions of nature to suggest their influence on the present reconfiguration of Canadian settler identity. It is essential to propose a basic attempt to dismantle the othering of nature in that process, and highlight the potentiality of all those discourses empowering it, to eventually illustrate its changing role in the settler mind. AndersonDargatz’s novels instantiate the last stages of an environmental exploitation of apocalyptic overtones, which impulses a pretext to revise genealogical settler inscriptions. The anthropocentric abuse of the environment is countered by avenging natural responses and a forceful decolonial depopulation, the cornerstone of a new beginning that contradicts how culture and nature have historically been read in Canada through dualistic visions of mastery and dependence. SETTLER VIEWS OF NATURE: AT THE CROSSROADS OF ECOCRITICAL AND POSTCOLONIAL TURNS The interest in refashioning Canadian settler identity arises from a needed admission that colonialism is a historical reality still tangible in contemporary native communities nationwide. According to Battell Lowman and Barker, a traditional refusal to accept the intervention of settlers in the displacement of previous dwellers and the denial of their land claims would overlook that Canada is “dependent on the land taken from indigenous nations” (2015, 3). The present “traction of the settler” (Battell Lowman and Barker 2015, 7), as they state, fertilizes the critical arena with a renewed intention to confront the so-called “settler problem” (2015, 13), which for them is caused by white settlers’ impossibility to accept their impact on native communities. Some of the most renowned analyses of settler identity in the 1990s insisted on its ambivalent nature on a precarious binary of self/other (Slemon 2004, 145). Referring to a wider context of settler identities, Slemon held then that “ambivalence of emplacement is the condition of their possibility” (2004, 148), and indeed a part of the refiguration suggested affects the demarcation of locality, now under the international pressures that bring ecological causes to attention (Lawson 2004, 151). Settler identity, as Battell Lowman and Barker hold, is “situated and process–based” (2015, 16), or established on very specific relationships with the environment, which, in turn, implies that ecological premises will directly sustain or shake the foundational pillars of that identity, and foster the changes apparent in ecofictions like Anderson-Dargatz’s. Preservationist attitudes or explicit denunciations

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of ecological disasters rework the settler’s bond with the land, beyond that menacing presence that contributed a primary sense of community in early settling. The transformational process of the Canadian settler in general, as well as in these fictions, results from conceiving that identity as “interrogative, nonderogatory and disjunctive” (Battell Lowman and Barker 2015, 19), namely concerned with forms of being which do not reproduce colonialist forms of belonging, and therefore, disclose a future beyond exploitative behaviors. Settling is then a process still open to construction in which a direct confrontation with the terror to be rootless is the primary path to set against itself conventional identity models. In literal and metaphorical terms, Anderson Dargatz’s fictions incorporate that panic in their decolonial depopulations forced by the avenging will of fire or water. They also reflect that “settler people [. . .] relate to the land as the site on which their society is built,” whereas “indigenous people relate to land as part of an integrated network of personalities” (Battell Lowman and Barker 2015, 53), thus producing an evident ideological clash. As Linda Hutcheon has also suggested, settler societies “have a less easily definable [. . .] identity vis-a-vis British imperial power.” For her, British culture was the only culture available to Canadian settlers, and her question is twenty-five years later still pertinent: “are there structural and systemic continuities between the historical experience of colonialism and the intellectual and cultural situation of Canada today?” (1993–94, 149). I would argue that there are continuities, which, however, are being remodeled when settlers accept their participation in the imperial structure of oppression. Hutcheon’s sites of postmodern eruptions in the imperial scaffolding of modernity, the postcolonial and the ecological, are precisely the junctures to situate settlers and the environment, and the shifting attitudes of the former towards the latter: from the othering technologies distinctive of a possessive modus operandi to the representation of a zealously intervened environment. Turtle Valley and The Spawning Grounds resituate the settler in a dialogue with nature and the native presence, which realigns power in favor of postcolonial and ecological positions. 2 From the early stages of settlement, Canadian nature brandished its reluctance to favor a sense of being homed for the arriving individuals. For settlers, infusing the space around with a sense of recognizable place needed the invocation of European Gothic traditions associated to the environment, which rapidly clashed with the local nature. Such an invocation, nevertheless, paralleled to a required topocentric reinvention, provided the early settlers with cultural sustenance, first, and, second, with the contestation of the imported metropolitan ideologies. In turn, feelings of communitarian ethos directly depended on a strong sensation of being haunted from the outside, making settling terrors side with the wild. The impossibility of mooring


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European master narratives of natural taming immersed Canadian settlers in “a struggle to story” themselves, which, fraught with impossibility, theoretically abated the potency of their land claims when faced with the question “if this is your land, where are your stories” (Sugars 2011, 59). 3 The search for ghosts in nature intended to alleviate the suspension of the settler presence between the poles of colonized and colonizer. In parallel, depopulating the land around by dehumanizing the natives contributed to the foundations of occupation in Canada (Sugars 2011, 59). The presence of the indigene is then ambivalently portrayed, oscillating between metaphorical or literal suppression, and the desire for the authenticity it is often paired to (Lawson 2004, 156). The erasure of the previous dwellers endows pioneers with the authenticity of the origin and the project of settlement with a firm ideological basis that grants woodsmen and homesteaders an automatic legitimation of their right to help themselves to nature. It also displaces onto a secondary position the power struggle of colonialist domination involved, and the settler entrapment between a desired (indigenous) source of authenticity and a required mimicked (metropolitan) authority. 4 The discursive construction of the environment supporting such a difficult balance relies on notions of cultural power in past and present generations of Canadian settlers, which the contemporary interest in ecocriticism has lain bare. If, following Northrop Frye, “Canadians were held by the land before they emerged as a people on it” (1976, 824), in Turtle Valley and The Spawning Grounds, nature is, in Lousley’ words, “a power–effect” (2014, 144), an instrument to return settlers convenient identity prospects, be they that of zealous pioneers convinced of their advance to progress, or that of settlers aware of their twenty-first-century intersectional identity, one framed by international ecological impulses of local overtones. In Anderson-Dargatz’s novels, an environmental crisis of global dimensions materializes through a declining apocalyptic nature diverted on the lives of the inhabitants: this wilderness overwhelms the working relationship with the land that Greg Garrard has detected in American writing (2004, 81). Instead, it is more consonant with “the most potent construction of nature available to New World environmentalism” (Buell 1996, 59), and, when allied to apocalyptic echoes, it functionally denounces human abuses, as Buell has stated in a wider context (1996, 285): these novels overtly engage the political dimension of the literary and the ecocritical (Garrard 2004, 3), openly address how the literary can benefit the environmental, and, as Sandilands proposes (2014, 127), disclose the social constituent of the literary act in renegotiating alternative settler identity paradigms (see Soper and Bradley 2013). Turtle Valley and The Spawning Grounds interweave postcolonial locality and the international dimension of ecological concerns, and therefore, could be within the scope of what Huggan calls a “postcolonial turn of ecocritical

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approaches” (2004, 702). As he acknowledges, ecologically minded contributions to postcolonial criticism have mostly analyzed native/settler property rights, land occupation, or the clash of ideological systems within empire in settler spaces (703–4). With these concerns apparent, the narratives to which we now turn in more detail imagine “alternative futures in which our current ways of looking at ourselves and our relation to the world might be creatively transformed” (Huggan 2004, 721; see also Huggan 2009). In parallel to that shape-shift of recent settler identity, they also are “historically situated critiques of capitalist ideologies of development” framed in different ways by “discourses of environmental representation” (Huggan 2004, 720), and, I would argue, oriented to the empowerment of nature. As long as the “post” in postcolonial does not occlude how the alteration of natural habitats has substantially affected the lives of native peoples or suggests that many native communities are no longer affected by colonialist processes, as Mason and his fellow editors underline, postcolonial analyses may be helpful to counter the present neoliberal emphasis and its bearing on the environment (2014, 2). THE DYING EMBERS OF TURTLE VALLEY: SETTLER GENEALOGIES SEVERED Whereas The Cure ended with a future perspective based on the romantic involvement of its protagonist Beth Weeks and the Shuswap hired-hand Billy Moses (Anderson-Dargatz 1997, 294), Turtle Valley lets readers know that Billy enlisted to be eventually killed in Holland during World War II, and Beth married instead Gus Svenson (Anderson-Dargatz 2008, 213). 5 The quotidian farm life determined in The Cure by Beth’s father, the tyrant John Weeks, reaches a present time, when Gus and Beth’s daughters, Valerie and the narrator Katrine, return home to care for their elderly parents, shortly before the mandatory evacuation demanded by a wildfire. Turtle Valley is pervious to the hostile exploitation of land and animals shown by its prequel. In the early 2000s, the Svenson-Weeks mirror the emptying out of the natives, now fully absent, and are contaminated by the ambivalence of the environment, at once threatening and fragile, which will severe any bonds to their place. “The fire on the hillside shimmered in the night like a bed of dying embers in a fireplace. Pretty,” Kat contemplates. “But the fire was [. . .] now beginning to head down the slope as well, threatening this valley of farms and acreages” (Anderson-Dargatz 2008, 1). Despite the beautiful image of dying embers, they consume the family’s belongings piled on their pick-up truck while running away, and in parallel, the memories they have been associated with all along the novel. Each of the different utensils photographed to begin every chapter, in Kat’s terms, “my parents’ precious possessions” (2008, 3), reflects daily scenes lived by the


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Svenson-Weeks. When coming across each of them, Kat has obsessed in connecting family possessions to the family’s past, as if each encapsulated episodes worth being salvaged for the communal memory record of an otherwise fragile settler archive. 6 Significantly, the burning of the farm is also the severing of the family’s bonds to such a place, which is at the end of the novel a meaningless space, once memories vanish. “All of us gave up possession [. . .] with the loss of my parents’ home,” Kat explains, to eventually go on: “[n]othing but the foundation was left, and it was [. . .] falling away to expose the stones John Weeks had unwisely mixed in the concrete” (Anderson-Dargatz 2008, 285). In parallel to her nostalgia for meaning, the metaphorical implication of foundations on “unwisely mixed” stones, as key to an edifice now disappeared, metonymically reflects the building of their relations to space and previous inhabitants. The erasure of meaning also overshadows the farm access, Blood Road, whose name is given by the color of the sand dyed red when turtles used to be crashed in their crossing. As Kat watches in her driver’s rear-view mirror when definitely leaving, the few surviving ones still cross, but their announced extinction will soon leave the place meaningless, too, as well as the whole of Turtle Valley, since when nature is deprecated, settler toponymy wanes. Fire then transforms nature into an active agent that extinguishes humans’ sense of being homed, while erasing any man-made intervention. Additionally, fire fosters indirectly a revision of settler scripts. The organization of belongings on the verge of evacuation triggers an archaeological search for answers about John Weeks’s disappearance back in 1965, or the illicit relation between his wife Maud and the neighbor Valentine Svenson. “Why hadn’t my parents ever told me the story of how my grandfather was lost?” (Anderson-Dargatz 2008, 7), Kat wonders. Her fabrication of ghosts to uphold her identity does not look for them in nature, but inside her genealogical tree, and her parents’ haunted house: from outside in by John Weeks’s ghost and his discomforting jingle of keys, and inside by Maud’s. “Dead Grandpa walks around. [. . .] Dead Grandma walks inside” (2008, 261), explains Kat’s sensitive toddler son Jeremy, establishing a transgenerational nexus with his great-grandmother, also able to see her dead mother. As the gothic scenario it turns out to be, the farmhouse opens alternative spaces between partitions that hide piles of love letters, or cherished objects thrown there to be away from John’s fierce vigilance. 7 “Layer after layer of my mother’s renovations hid the home my grandmother knew,” Kat explains. “Yet there were vestiges of that past here” (Anderson-Dargatz 2008, 17). A reconfiguration of family relations and their connection with the surroundings is also contained, as alternative versions are considered: “I thought I knew my family, and here were all these stories I had never heard before. Hearing them now, [. . .], left me feeling like an outsider, uncertain of my

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place within my family” (2008, 212). Kat’s settler struggle to story herself spreads her predication of otherness inwards, not outwards. The secret on John’s death has been kept for fifty years, while holding that he was lost in the mountains after one of his frequent rage fits and never returned, presumably prey to the roaming cougars. To judge from the family’s secret, the construction of nature as the monster loses ground, inasmuch as the monster sides with farm space, where the patriarch is killed by one of the recurrent victims of his molestation, Beth. In contrast to the wild, the suffocating family house is here a space of exposition, which Kat remembers with no affection—“I had never been fond of this house” (Anderson-Dargatz 2008, 226)—and hardly ever associated with the safety that a home provides: “[w]hen I longed for home, it wasn’t my parents’ dark farm-house that I missed,” Kat remembers, “but those trees and bushes: the poplar, spruce, and cottonwood, pin cherry, and Saskatoon that lined the driveway and hemmed the homesite, protecting it from the devilish winds of the valley” (35). However, most of them are unhealthy in the present, like that plum tree that Kat’s husband, Ezra, tries to prune. Its trunk “was deeply scarred from disease, so like the photos, I’d seen of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients” (2008, 37), Kat notices. In Turtle Valley, the disease of nature derives from its excessive humanization. The overexploited fields of the Weeks’ farm, sometime rich in flax or fresh hay, lie now eaten up by bushes, cauterized by summer heat as a prelude to their devastation. In parallel, Gus goes through the last stage of his terminal cancer and is taken home from hospital to die in the care of his nurse daughter Val. Beth, in turn, lives a childish existence surrounded by her writing pad and her home kittens in an unsustainable number, which makes Kat long for that moment when every animal in the farm had a distinct function. Unlike Beth’s excessively domesticated kittens, “our cats were [. . .] working cats, and earned their salary of dry food and the occasional scratch behind the ear by keeping the rodent population down” (AndersonDargatz 2008, 143). Contrary to the time in which the farm relied on milk cows and ewes, current herds are minimal and their decline is reflected in a lame calf that needs be butchered before evacuation. The productivity of the farm is now insignificant, as if invaded by the same deterioration of the nature around and its impending end. Unable to successfully prune the plum tree, Ezra takes upon himself the butchering of the ailing calf to conclude that, after his ictus, he is also “a gimp” (2008, 219). Part of the productivity of the thriving Weeks’ farm as portrayed in The Cure relied on the mistreatment of animals and a disproportionate effort to annex neighboring land, be that the Swede’s farm or reservation territory, with equally capitalist ends. Beth’s narration to Kat is plentiful in episodes like Nelly’s death. The mule Nelly is eventually thrown into an empty water well, when, misguided by a willow cane in his search of the optimal ground


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for digging, John suffers one of his usual anger outbursts, worsened by Nelly’s reluctance to be of help. The scene is embedded in the exploitation of his farm hydraulic resources to ease the edification of a bigger house, which is finally withdrawn. The stubbornness of the animal competes with John’s attempt to handle her, and when unable, forces Maud to witness her favorite mule’s drowning (Anderson-Dargatz 2008, 32). A contrast between this scene and the butchering of the calf shows how the anthropocentric stance has receded: the calf is shot to end its misery, what the native Mona Moses used to say about John: “someone should take a gun to him and put him out of his misery” (2008, 211). Significantly, John and Nelly share the same burial space, where man and animal are not anymore in the vertical exploitative relation they used to hold. In agreement with the collapse of distinct dualities supportive of anthropocentric rights of nature exploitation, for example, fire in the novel is not only the agent of overpowering destruction. It seems to be a part of an organic process of destruction and (re)production. It is constructive in the hands of Jude Garibaldi, the Weeks’ neighbor, artist, and Kat’s former youth fiancé (Pedersen 2007, n. p). While fingering his business card, Kat reads: “The Jude Garibaldi Pottery. High-fired functional pottery and raku” (Anderson-Dargatz 2008, 25). And indeed, the fire under control that Jude uses in his craftsmanship productions, attracts and repels Kat, as it also happens with him. In the same way that Jude was married to Lillian when their romance occurred, and therefore was bound to be severely censored by the community, among other factors for Jude’s wife’s sclerosis and unavoidable pairing with helplessness, the revival of their romance is also problematic for Kat’s marriage, where Ezra replays now Lillian’s role. It is not only that the narrative draws a circle returning to Kat’s youth, but also in Kat’s eyes, generations do not advance but describe loops contradicting any notion of advancement. After reading the letters that testify Maud’s affair with Valentine, mostly materialized during her husband’s periods in a sanatorium, Kat feels that she is replicating with Jude and Ezra the same triangle: in love with a man that cannot be with her and married to someone she does not love anymore. For Beth, however, “Ezra is not my father. Jude is not your uncle Valentine. [. . .] And you, my dear, are not my mother” (2008, 258). Social and economic factors separate Maud and Kat, who does not only break up with Ezra but avoids falling in Jude’s arms. In this way, the project of settlement is not only unfinished but interrupted, not the least because the land and its settlers share a parallel disease: productivity has plummeted as the ultimate consequence of the global economic crisis, while ill and aging humans cannot cope with the daily chores of the exhausted farm. Nature, via fire, wipes settlers out, as water also does in The Spawning Grounds.

A Few Sockeyes and Dying Embers in What Is Left of the Forest


A FEW SOCKEYES IN THE SPAWNING GROUNDS: ECOLOGICAL CRISIS AND A NEW BEGINNING Anderson-Dargatz’s latest renovates the triangulation of settlers, natives and the environment, but it inserts in the mediating space an ethical compromise for the betterment of the oppressed, which Huggan sees usual in those literary productions that weld ecocritical and postcolonial axes, and exploits the “cross–cultural implications of ecocritical debates” (2004, 720). Like in Turtle Valley, the ecological catastrophe helps a revision of settler history, whose fulcrum is the part of the archive in the hands of the natives. That knowledge adumbrates a hybrid past that, once acknowledged, envisions the beginning of a time of reciprocal respect. 8 The Spawning Grounds joins settlement and ecological disaster in a common beginning, the time of Eugene Robertson’s arrival in 1857. He was “the first to take down trees on the thin strip of river plain; the first to put up fences; the first to water his livestock from this river and pollute its waters.” It is then that Eugene started a hostile exploitation of the zone while displacing the Shuswap natives onto the other shore. From then on, “future generations of Robertsons would take more from this river and this land” (Anderson-Dargatz 2016, 3). While water is the element with which nature retaliates for the multifarious aggressions, it is also the vehicle for a circular regeneration of life, epitomized in the way salmon used to descend the river to reach the Pacific, and return upstream to spawn and die, thus fertilizing the nearby banks. Decimated by overexploitation, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the diverted river stops the progress of the sockeye, which perish before spawning, or silt suffocates the newly born sturgeons. This circular process counters the linear penetration westward of pioneers and homesteaders, or their equally linear process of natural abuse, with a clear start and its end in the present catastrophe. When this antagonistic processes cross, life regeneration comes to a halt: when the progress of salmon is stopped, the so-called water mysteries or wunks possess human beings to ease their course downstream. According to the local native belief, which, far from marginal, rules the narrative action, if they are not timely released, allowing their return to the river, they will invoke storms by steadily gazing at the pictographs on the wall of the proximate cliff, tellingly named Eugene’s Rock. A signifier of the annihilation of native culture by settler toponymy, the rock presents the pictograph of a carved fish, a symbol that floats freely between the Native and Christian cosmologies. Be that the spirit of resilience and regeneration of life, or an early Christian icon of community, from a hybrid intercultural territory, the almost extinct sockeyes epitomize the river degradation, and the cornerstone of its renewal, if conveniently protected.


Pedro Miguel Carmona Rodríguez

The circular process of natural regeneration is belied when Eugene is linearly presented as the first genealogical antecedent of the present-day Robertsons: Stewart, his widower son Jesse, and his children, Hannah and Brandon. Their mother, Elaine, died by drowning when the water mystery that had possessed her returned to the river. As a reproductive condition of his settling, Eugene appropriated the native girl Libby as the surrogate of his lawful British wife. Their son Samuel also died in the river when four years old, and prey to a water mystery, just before Eugene brought to Canada his British spouse and children. His eldest son, also named Samuel, is Stewart’s direct ancestor. Eugene’s reproduction of British sameness in the lands of Canada highlights, however, the threat posed to his colonialist authority by the surroundings and the native presence. Despite his efforts to confine Libby, she challenges him with her language, which she furtively teaches Samuel, her sexual encounters with other men, and her regular crossings of the river to be with her people. More than a century and a half after Eugene started devastating the river, Hannah tries to return ecological balance to the ecosystem: while she now helps salmon upstream, “her grandfather had straightened the river [. . .], attempting to add the fertile soil to his hayfield” (Anderson-Dargatz 2016, 6–7). Her effort also participates of a renewal of that regenerating natural circularity, which contraposes the local developer’s straightforward interest in turning the area into a tourist hub. Such an attempt requires the violation of Shuswap sacred ground, where Native people believe Samuel’s body is buried. Hannah’s concern with the land and native rights are partially indebted to Alex, grandson to Dennis Moses’s, the Native waged worker at the Weeks’ farm in The Cure. Unlike the Weeks’ property at that time, the Robertsons’ faces an uncertain future: Jesse is absent and Stew, now disabled, wants to accept the local developer’s offers and refuse the environmentalists’, because they “would sell off the cows and let these fields go to bush” (2016, 21), thus reversing the clearing of his ancestor. When the novel opens, Hannah’s attempts to help salmon upstream are interrupted by Stew’s fall into the rapids in the midst of an argument with Alex over land claims. In the process of helping him out, Brandon is possessed by the water mystery and replicates previous possessions in the family, a transgenerational presence that is the key to the collapse of the settler/ native binary: the naked Native boy that walks on water has made prey of Samuel, Elaine and Brandon, dislodged their souls and sheltered in their bodies. Nevertheless, the Robertsons’ transgenerational hosting of the Shuswap spirit is not the only way in which the novel uses hybridity to fuel a revision of settler scripts. The disputed burial ground hosts the body of a native–white settler child, who predates the British Samuel as the origin of the Robertsons in the valley. This overlooked premise of hybridity in the origin gives a twist to Hannah’s view of her family, when unveiled by the

A Few Sockeyes and Dying Embers in What Is Left of the Forest


stories transmitted by Dennis to his descendant Alex, who reports them to Hannah. As it happens in Turtle Valley, ghosts for identity definitions reside in the genealogical tree. Meanwhile, those living thanks to the traditional boundary posed by the reservation and its people do not survive any longer: on the one hand, Alex “purposefully set[s] himself apart from both the Rez community where he lived and the valley at large with his expensive jeans and leather jacket,” and adopts “an urban identity” (Anderson-Dargatz 2016, 15), to cross the ethnic and social boundary from his theatre instructor position. On the other, Alex’s relative, Gina, a social worker neighbor to the Robertsons, is a hybrid, as attested by her hazel-colored eyes, “a hand-medown from some white ancestor” (2016, 252). Their twenty-first-century guises impel Stew to admit that “it’s hard to tell those days” who is (not) Indian” (2016, 16). It is not incidental that some of the native characters in the novel are part of the so-called “Indigenous renaissance.” Turning the settler/native binary upside down, they open a new order for the native presence, from class precepts. Such a renaissance, “arose from multiple forms of struggle, resistance and conscientization” that might have helped many native Canadians see “the limits of the knowledge available for making a difference in our living conditions,” Battiste explains, to eventually “help Eurocentric society find its own story” (2014, 88). This resurgence and (self) appraisal of indigenous values has also enabled their productive contribution to issues of sustainability worldwide (Battiste 2014, 84). As the border native–settler blurs, the novel also undoes the boundary sustaining the othering of nature to support the illusion of a homogeneous settler culture. A holistic view indebted to the local Natives’ cosmos reminds readers of a time when othering was not needed as mechanics of signification. Contradicting the Christian belief, “everything has a soul,” Alex explains: “the salmon, the river, the rocks on shore, the trees, the eagles—” (Anderson-Dargatz 2016, 135). In that time of unclear differentiation, “a Secwepemc boy could ride the ice floe downstream, [. . .] and then swim back upstream to his grieving grandfather, reborn with the skin of a sockeye” (2016, 137). The spawning grounds are a gift of Coyote’s transformative powers, and they must be sustainably used: if the river does not flow, the cycle is interrupted; a chaos will be produced to provoke a forceful rebirth of creatures, quite alike the biblical Apocalypses and Genesis, which Dennis Moses used to read in parallel to, but never against, the stories of his people. That cosmos of half-human beings is apparent in Brandon’s drawings on his bedroom walls. They are the representation of the external hybrid world indoors and echo the family’s ignored hybrid roots in the story of the first Canadian Robertson. Hannah’s attempt at erasing the pictures symbolizes a dismissal of difference to give prevalence to her concept of neatness. Instead of offering a type of dualistic nature, continuities are apparent in “[a] figure with the head of a coyote; a bear with the head of a man” (Anderson-Dargatz


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2016, 52). Like the continuum between animate and inanimate, an unbroken path death–life exists when salmon spawn and die. When Elaine swam in the river and was taken by a water mystery, Jesse saw that “some part of her had died,” but she was found then “curled into herself like a newborn” (2016, 57), thus echoing the salmon’s cycle. Like in the different vital stages of salmon, the water mystery swaps human bodies to ensure its survival, fracturing duality with multiplicity. The whole nature of the valley parallels the disease of the river, as Jesse notices in his return home. He “stared at what was left of the forest, pines in the red attack stage of pine beetle infestation [. . .]. The pines looked like an army of rusted tin soldiers” (Anderson-Dargatz 2016, 39). As it happens in Turtle Valley, humans and nature have initiated a common path of gradual decline, confirmed by Stew’s demise at hospital. Part of that slow death is indebted to how nature and settlement have entered into parasitic associations. On his return home, Jesse realizes, for example, how “foolish” had been “[p]lanting [a] willow,” near the house, since now its “roots [. . .] had pushed under [it], cracking the foundation” and “[t]hey had likely crept into the septic field as well” (2016, 64). In contrast, those willow trees by the river were felled, and the river has eroded the banks, which confirms a double intervention of toxic results. As Jesse reflects, “he was as irresponsible as [his ancestors],” but “he didn’t have the cultural ignorance—the arrogance—of that past era to hide behind” (2016, 70–72). Like his ancestors, Jesse ignores the spiritual world of the Shuswap and its inextricable connection with nature; he is unable to grasp how ingrained it is in his own family, and dismissing his hybrid history, he is also incapable of understanding what happened to Elaine and now to Brandon. Jesse’s decision to confine his son evinces an implementation of the colonialist settling in the denial of any natural bearing on his culture. Conversely, and unlike Hannah, he inherits the supremacy that leads to the depletion of nature. With no conciliatory ground, the spirit’s struggle to return to the river brings that storm that floods part of the valley and the farm: “The house that Eugene Robertson had built floated like a boat over the drowned pasturelands” (Anderson-Dargatz 2016, 284), Jesse notices from a vantage point. When Alex and Hannah recover Brandon from the river and revive him in a forced happy end, the novel restores order as the river returns to its course. A new beginning appears then for the settlers who reconcile their past of exploitation to a future of sustainable coexistence. Such a threshold is metonymically embodied in Alex and Hannah’s liaison on the assumption that “the history of his people and hers wasn’t [. . .] in the past” (2016, 290).

A Few Sockeyes and Dying Embers in What Is Left of the Forest


CONCLUSION Turtle Valley and The Spawning Grounds renovate settlers’ attitude towards nature, which is essential to reconfigure their identity, together with a dismissal of the ineluctability of oppression in the cultural clash. Canadian postcolonialism has been repeatedly about implementing this approach to settler identity, as Diana Brydon firstly enunciated in 1995, but it has been “drawn back from the precipice,” when unable to assimilate the view at the bottom, “a radical change in the way our society is organized and understood” (2004, 171). The position of the present-day settler requires appraising that the bond between society and nature is not necessarily binary, to later accept that the deprecation of natural habitats implies the collapse of societal structures in a mutually implicating form. NOTES 1. Anderson–Dargatz (b. 1963) started her literary production in 1994 with The Miss Hereford Stories. One of its narratives, “The Girl with the Bell Necklace,” sparked The Cure for Death by Lightning, shortlisted for the Giller Prize. In 1998, her next fiction, A Recipe for Bees, turned into another Giller nominee. The rural ambience of The Cure was reinstated in A Rhinestone Button, published in 2002, which brought about the daily realities of Albertan farmers. 2. From 1993, when Glotfelty situates the foundations of ecocritism (1996, xvi–xvii), the virulence of ecological disasters worsened by human alterations of natural habitats has been a commonplace: forest fires of epic dimensions in the US and Canada (“Canada”), intimately connected to lack of seasonal rains; tsunamis that destroy nuclear facilities in Japan; unprecedented oil spillages in Spain or the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention the pollution by plastics in the Pacific. 3. In the account of Edward Chamberlain (Sugars 2011, 59), the oft-quoted question was launched by a Native elder to the British officials that took up the territory of his people. 4. Given the Christian background of most immigrants, the right to natural resources was legitimated early. It deepens into Christian creation myths in which Adam was given the power to use nature at will. This anthropocentric right is established on the premise that “nature has no reason for existence save to serve man” (White 1996, 14). The breakdown of animist philosophies and the logocentric establishment of Humanism account for the silence that the natural realm has assumed, one which dismissed many Native American and Native Canadian cosmologies that are now valued in the search for a new ecological code that highlights that “all phenomenal world is alive (inspirited)” (Manes 1996, 18). Allen also explains that the universe of many North American Native tribes breaks binaries like animal/human or animate/inert (1996, 246). 5. All references to Turtle Valley and The Spawning Grounds are to the Vintage and Alfred A. Knopf Canada editions, respectively. They are only indicated by page numbers. 6. Sugars considers that the objects assembled certify the impossibility to counter the action of forgetting. Likewise, the healing power of scrapbooking (see Tamas 2014), or the practice of writing that Maud, Beth and Kat share across family generations are uncertainly a way to remember, or to escape from abject realities (Sugars 2014; see Levy 2002). 7. The gothic elements in The Cure have been aligned to the inscription of a gendered story by critics like Macpherson Slettedahl (2005). In her comparative analysis of Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook and The Cure, Goldman (2012, 39–62) underlines the doubleness of both texts, and the unsettling effect they produce, as regards national and individual settler-invader’s consciousness. Rzepa (2005) has found magic realism a useful tool to break realism and


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inscribe alternative epistemes that discursively fragment colonialism in Anderson-Dargatz’s first novel. Many of the points made by these critics could also be elaborated in reference to Turtle Valley and The Spawning Grounds. 8. Hansen’s 2016 review underlines that it “slips into sentimentality at its conclusion, which relies too heavily on imagery suggesting rebirth and healing” (n. p.).

REFERENCES Allen, Paula Gunn. 1996. “The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Perspective.” In The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, 241–63. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Anderson-Dargatz, Gail. 1997 (1996). The Cure for Death by Lightning. Toronto: Vintage. ———. 2008 (2007). Turtle Valley. Toronto: Vintage. ———. 2016. The Spawning Grounds. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada. Battel Lowman, Emma, and Adam J. Baker. 2015. Settler Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada. Black Point, NS: Fernwood. Battiste, Marie. 2014. “Ambidextrous Epistemologies: Indigenous Knowledge within the Indigenous Renaissance.” In Critical Collaborations: Indigeneity, Diaspora, and Ecology, edited by Smaro Kamboureli and Christl Verduyn, 83–98. Waterloo, ON: Wilfried Laurier University Press. Brydon, Diana. 2004. “Reading Postcoloniality, Reading Canada.” In Unhomely States: Theorizing English Canadian Postcolonialism, edited by Cynthia Sugars, 165–79. New York: Broadview Press. Buell, Lawrence. 1996 (1995). The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. “Canada Forest Fires Spew Dust All the Way to Switzerland.” 2016. London: The Telegraph (June 3) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/03/canada-fires-spew-dust-all-the-wayto-switzerland/. Frye Northrop. 1976 (1965). “Conclusion.” In Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English, edited by Carl F. Klinck, Alfred G. Bailey, Claude Bissell, Roy Daniells, Northrop Frye, and Desmond Pacey, 821–49. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Garrard, Greg. 2004. Ecocriticism. London: Routledge. Glotfelty, Cheryll. 1996. “Introduction: Literary Studies in an Age of Environmental Crisis.” In The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, xv–xxxvii. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Goldman, Marlene. 2012. DisPossession: Haunting in Canadian Fiction. Montreal: McGillQueen’s University Press. Hansen, Dana. 2016. “The Spawning Grounds, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz.” Quill & Quire, Last modified July 2016 https://quillandquire.com/review/the-spawning-ground. Huggan, Graham. 2004. “Greening Postcolonialism: Ecocritical Perspectives.” Modern Fiction Studies, 50, no. 4: 701–33. ———. 2009. “Postcolonial Ecocriticism and the Limits of Green Romanticism.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 45, no. 1: 3–14. Hutcheon, Linda. 1993–1994. “Eruptions of Postmodernity”. Essays on Canadian Writing, 51–52: 146–63. Lawson, Alan. 2004. “Postcolonial Theory and the Settler Subject.” In Unhomely States: Theorizing English Canadian Postcolonialism, edited by Cynthia Sugars, 151–64. New York: Broadview. Levy, Sophie. 2002. ‘“This Dark Echo Calls Him Home’: Writing Father-Daughter Incest Narratives in Canadian Immigrant Fiction.” University of Toronto Quarterly, 71, no. 4: 864–80. Lousley, Cheryl. 2014. “Ecocriticism in the Unregulated Zone.” In Critical Collaborations: Indigeneity, Diaspora, and Ecology, edited by Smaro Kamboureli and Christl Verduyn, 143–60. Waterloo, ON: Wilfried Laurier University Press.

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Macpherson Slettedahl, Heidi. 2005. “Coyote as Culprit: Her-Story and the Feminist Fantastic in Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s The Cure for Death by Lightning.” In History, Literature and the Writings of the Canadian Prairies, edited by Alison Calder and Robert Wardhaugh, 87–100. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press. Manes, Christopher. 1996. “Nature and Silence.” In The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, 15–29. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Mason, Travis V., Lisa Szabo-Jones and Elzette Steenkamp. 2014. “Introduction to Postcolonial Ecocriticism among Settler-Colonial Nations”. ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 44, no. 4: 1–11. Pedersen, Katy. 2007. “A Review of Turtle Valley, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz.” Quill & Quire (September). https://quillandquire.com/review/turtle-valley/. Plumwood, Val. 1993. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London: Routledge. Ricou, Laurie. 2014. “Disturbance–Loving Species: Habitat Studies, Ecocritical Pedagogy, and Canadian Literature.” In Critical Collaborations: Indigeneity, Diaspora, and Ecology, edited by Smaro Kamboureli and Christl Verduyn, 161–74. Waterloo, ON: Wilfried Laurier University Press. Rzepa, Agnieszka. 2005. “ Beyond Hodgins and Kroetsch: Other Spaces of English-Canadian Magic Realism.” The Central European Journal of Canadian studies 5: 7–17. Sandilands, Catriona. 2014. “Acts of Nature: Literature, Excess, and Environmental Politics.” Critical Collaborations: Indigeneity, Diaspora, and Ecology, edited by Smaro Kamboureli and Christl Verduyn, 127–42. Waterloo, ON: Wilfried Laurier University Press. Slemon, Stephen. 2004. “Unsettling the Empire: Resistance Theory for the Second World.” In Unhomely States: Theorizing English Canadian Postcolonialism, edited by Cynthia Sugars, 139–50. New York: Broadview Press. Soper, Ella, and Nicholas Bradley. 2013. “Introduction: Ecocriticism North of the Forty–ninth Parallel.” In Greening the Maple: Canadian Ecocriticism in Context, edited by Ella Soper and Nicholas Bradley, xiii–liv. Calgary, AB: University of Calgary Press. Sugars, Cynthia. 2011. “Phantom Nation: English–Canadian Literature and the Desire for Ghosts.” Zeitschrift für Kanada-Studien [Journal of the Association for Canadian Studies in German–Speaking Countries] 31, no. 2: 58–77. ———. 2014. “Scrapbooking: Memory and Memorabilia in Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s The Cure for Death by Lightning and Turtle Valley.” In Canadian Literature and Cultural Memory, edited by Cynthia Sugars and Eleanor Ty, 183–98. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press. Tamas, Sophie. 2014. “Scared Kitless: Scrapbooking Spaces of Trauma.” Emotion, Space and Society 10: 87–94. White, Lynn Jr. 1996. “The Historic Roots of our Ecological Crisis.” In The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, 3–14. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Chapter Eight

The Last Epigram Christian Bök’s Xenotext Ryan Winet

The principal subject of analysis in this essay will be Christian Bök’s The Xenotext, a project and book seeking to accomplish a form of genetic poetry. 1 The Xenotext aims to manipulate the DNA of an extremophile bacterium called D. radiodurans to produce (and reproduce) a poem lasting millions or even billions of years. 2 In the “Vita Explicata” concluding the first volume of The Xenotext, Bök explains the project as coding a poem called “Orpheus” into the genes of D. radiodurans; if successful, this encoded poem will be “read” by the bacterium to build a “viable, benign protein—one whose sequence of amino acids encodes yet another sonnet (called ‘Eurydice’)” (Bök 2015, 150). The cell of D. radiodurans “becomes not only an archive for storing a poem,” according to Bök, but also “a machine for writing the poem” (Bök 2015, 150). The Xenotext wrestles with contradictory impulses to dominate and embrace nature. On the one hand, The Xenotext inherits the ancient desire to dominate nature by leaving behind a signature; on the other hand, The Xenotext embraces a newer, ecocritical conception of a human–modified nature that will reproduce language outside the direct control of the author, a goal that may enable Bök to write the poem that outlasts all others. As John Charles Ryan has argued, Bök’s fascination with a genetic form of writing construes the environment as a book of nature to be interpreted and manipulated. From such a perspective, The Xenotext is better understood as a reinscription of classic power–knowledge dynamics (Ryan 2017, 130). Sean Gurd has called Bök’s reliance upon the Classical tradition a “Mephistophelean deal” haunting the gender dynamics of The Xenotext (Book 1), which stages the Classical assumption of Nature as “the passive (female) recipient of creative (male) technology” (Gurd 2019, 75). 109


Ryan Winet

In its efforts to write a permanent entry on behalf of the author in the book of nature, The Xenotext serves as a genetic update to a longstanding dream of enduring art. Unlike previous forms which rely upon inscription or memory, Bök’s project hacks the chemical processes that have enabled life to reproduce itself for an estimated 4.5 billion years. In a 2008 abstract for the journal SCRIPTed, for instance, Bök writes that, in the future, “genetics might lend a possible, literary dimension to biology, granting every geneticist the power to become a poet in the medium of life” (Bök 2008, 227). Bök’s Xenotext fulfills an ancient dream to dominate nature through inscription, altering DNA in order to produce a writing that outlasts not only a generation, but the human species itself; however, from another perspective, The Xenotext only accomplishes its mission through a redefinition of the poetics of that domination, altering DNA as a means of harnessing its reproductive powers. In addition to this dance between domination and constraint, Bök’s project is defined by literal and figurative failures: Bök has accomplished his genetic experiment in a strand of E. coli but has failed (as yet) to successfully produce “Eurydice” in D. radiodurans (Bök 2015, 150); the titles of the two living poems, “Orpheus” and “Eurydice,” name a mythic poet and the beloved he failed to recover from the Underworld; and The Xenotext (Book 1), a volume originally meant to be a demonstrated success pairing genetics and poetry, is instead an errata of explanations, translations, and original poems, with a helpful “Vita Explicata” supplementing its contents. Such “failures,” I will be arguing, might serve as symptoms indicating that Bök’s project has become itself a sort of critical choice, a decision that the artist must see through to its end, regardless of its literal (i.e., genetic) success or failure. Failure in genetic writing is itself a necessary step toward an ecological method in aesthetics and especially in poetry. Because a full treatment of The Xenotext extends beyond the boundaries of a chapter, I will attempt to stick with Bök—along with Virgil and Orpheus—through the Underworld. As a way of embracing this critical choice, I will read “The Nocturne of Orpheus” first by attending to the larger project of The Xenotext, including the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the genres of the pastoral and the nocturne, before concluding with Keats’s sonnet and its anagrammatic echo, “The Nocturne of Orpheus.” In his ecocriticism, Timothy Morton distinguishes between “consumerist” and “critical” forms of choice. For Morton, traditional environmentalism inherits a “bohemian Romantic consumerism” that attempts to resist capitalism precisely by navigating the same world of possibilities capitalism has opened to consumers (Morton 2007, 183). Such “consumerist” choices perpetuate a global capitalist order while cosmetically critiquing its more abusive aspects. Because consumerist choice can only superficially resist capitalism, Morton argues for critical choice, a form of Walden’s deliberate living “without having to retreat the woods to do so” (Morton 2007, 183).

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Critical choice “shuts down the possibility of choosing again” and resembles the “wave reduction” of particle physics (Morton 2007, 183). Critical choice flirts with ambiance insofar as it “shows as many possibilities as possible” but, as a method, determines a direction and sticks with that decision (Morton 2007, 183). Morton’s original distinction between consumerist and critical forms of choice rests not on hot-button sites of traditional environmentalism, such as the organic store or the farmers market, but rather upon a question of aesthetics. Ecology without Nature begins and ends with meditations (and practices) of representing the environment, which Morton recognizes is part of the problem of thinking through ecology. Rather than become attracted to the open-ended, ambient possibilities of consumerism, Morton’s dark ecology challenges us “to love the disgusting, inert, and meaningless,” to embrace pleasure and pain, hope and grief as a form of social and artistic duty (Morton 2007, 195). Morton concludes Ecology without Nature with the image of mud: “Instead of trying to pull the world out of the mud,” he writes, “we could jump down into the mud” (Morton 2007, 205). This image anticipates Morton’s later nomenclature for an environment shot through with materials, chemical interactions, and feedback loops. Morton settles on “mesh” as his preferred term for this mud, a term that appropriately blurs the lines between self and world, identity and environment. 3 The Xenotext (Book 1) is first and foremost a project about genetic poesis, the making of an “anomalous poem” from the textual possibilities offered by nucleotides (Bök 2015, 150). As a project altering the environment through poetic initiative, The Xenotext represents a modern take on the powers often ascribed to Orpheus, that mythic singer capable of bending trees and drawing stones through the powers of his voice. Writing about the roles of Orpheus and Eurydice in twentieth–century modernist works, Helen Sword argues Orpheus “embodies both the powers of art and the limitations of art—both the possibility of conquering death and the futility of the attempt” (Sword 1989, 408). Sword’s interpretation establishes an ambivalence in the myth informing Bök’s own project, which embraces the powers of genetic art to extend poetry (potentially) hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions of years into the future, conquering death (at least for a long while) but only through the embodiment of language inside the DNA of an extremophile bacterium. Orpheus’s powers have long represented an ideal, the collapse of the symbolic and real that has only recently become more available through technologies and techniques in genetic engineering. Among the many myths connected with Orpheus, his death at the hands of the Maenads is an enduring symbol for the endurance of art and the failure of the body. Bök seems to have a similar sense of the enduring powers of artifice at the beginning of the “Vita Explicata” section of The Xenotext (Book 1), which praises D. radiodurans as a bacterium capable of surviving for billions of years: “A poem stored in the genome of such a resilient bacterium might outlive every civil-


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ization, persisting on the planet until the very last dawn, when our star finally explodes” (Bök 2015, 151). Bök invokes a cosmic sense of ruin—the explosion of the Sun—as a temporal limit to his project; however, the interim of his artistic triumph will likely be much shorter than he claims here. Recent models indicate that eukaryotic life will be extinguished in 800 million years owing to disruptions in the carbonate-silicate cycle, and even Bök’s beloved prokaryotes will likely be gone in 2.8 billion years, far earlier than the five billion years that are requested for the sun to consume the earth. 4 Here we can sense how the very human species becomes a staging ground for the mythical poles of Orpheus or Eurydice. Sometimes we wield the technologies of control, and sometimes we have become the victims of that control; sometimes we are the poet that escapes the Underworld, and sometimes we are the footprints in the grass marking the absence of fulfilled desire and also the hubris of the heroic (and male) artist. These complications represent only one direction that an avenging Nature might take in response to artistic hubris; and yet, despite this pride, Bök’s dream of a billion-year project challenges his readers to imagine durations in the millions and billions of years, or deep time. First coined in the late twentieth century by John McPhee, the concept of deep time dates back to the birth of modern geology in the eighteenth century. 5 Thomas Hutton’s observations suggested the migration of rock and terrain over periods of time far exceeded human history, challenging prevailing attitudes about the earth, which had been based traditionally in counting backward through Biblical genealogies (famously, Archbishop James Ussher estimated the earth was approximately six thousand years old). When the Geological Society of London was founded in 1807, Adelene Buckland argues the term “geology” was already being used to denote an empirical science according to the sense provided by French anatomist Georges Cuvier as “the firsthand study of specific local regions and on the gathering of facts and observations rather than on the cosmological speculations of high-level theory” (Buckland 2013, 4). Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1833) would refine and popularize scientific geology, influencing the work of a young Charles Darwin. Though McPhee did not coin the phrase “deep time” until the 1980s, a sense of geologic time informs various fields of Victorian science as well as Victorian literature by the middle nineteenth century. Buckland points to the famous examples of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “nature red in tooth and claw” and moments in Dickens’s Bleak House. Buckland also perceives in the language of romance so often adopted by nineteenth-century geologists a deeper relationship between literature and the science of geology, an effort to import discoveries with an “underworld of epic magnitude” (Buckland 2013, 15). Through allusions, metaphors, and generic similarities with romance, geology might comport with the educational curricula of gentlemen familiar with classical epics and the Bible, so that a discipline that had made the earth

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radically strange and incomprehensible could become syncretic with more familiar types of cultural knowledge. If nineteenth-century geologists had often used the rhetoric of heroes and knights to describe deep time, then twentieth- and twenty-first-century scientists often employ the language of stewardship, a more domestic genre evocative of the etymology of “ecology” (from the Greek “eco,” or house). In a vision for engaging citizens on matters of sustainability, A. R. Palmer invokes the concept of the commons—“a tract of ground shared by residents of village, but belonging to no-one”—to conceptualize a wider spatial and temporal response to human activity. Unlike the public sphere, Palmer’s “global commons” treats the earth as an inheritance and legacy rather than as the sovereign property of a nation or international corporation; to be a citizen of the global commons is to be a person who takes responsibility for how one uses and sometimes damages the various spheres connected to the web of life. Deep time serves as an important thought experiment in the service of ecological poetics and activism. The Long Now Project, which features contributions from such musical and literary luminaries as Brian Eno and Michael Chabon, aims to “foster long–term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.” In his essay “The Big Here and the Long Now,” Eno worries about the contracted spaces and times he witnessed as a visitor to New York City, where small apartments could be gentrified with little consideration for the health of the surrounding communities. Chabon writes about different senses of now, beginning with the “now” typically implied in a timespan of yesterday, today, and tomorrow; “nowadays” as a span of thirty years; and the “long now” as a concept spanning some twenty thousand years, beginning with the emergence of urban civilization and extending into the far future. In “Notes on Genetic Art,” George Gessert provides a surprising history of genetic projects preceding The Xenotext, identifying domesticated flowers and animals as examples of a “vast unacknowledged folk art, or primitive genetic art, that stretches back thousands of years” (Gessert 1993, 205). Despite his provocative history, Gessert ends his essay on an apocalyptic vision of genetically–modified blue roses flourishing in the ruins of shopping malls in a distant future. Techne here acts as visionary pharmikon. As modern readers, then, we occupy an auspicious time, remembering the stewardship of beekeepers and shepherds but also participating in a global economy producing genetically modified organisms and industrially raised meat products. If we take Gessert’s provocation here with the seriousness that it deserves, then the pastoral tradition represents a longstanding celebration of genetic folk art serving as primer and also nocturne for the modern reader. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is only one strand of literary tradition staging the tension between art and its limitations. As Bök and others have noted, The Xenotext (Book 1) incorporates elements of the pastoral tradition,


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especially Virgil’s Georgics. Of course, Virgil strikes an imposing, if complicated, pose in literature. His best-known works—Eclogues, Georgics, and the Aeneid—have provided an enduring model for poetic careers, which begin with the pastoral and end with the epic; moreover, Virgil acts as Dante’s guide through the Underworld in the Inferno. Virgil is not only literature’s most famous Xenagogue, “an escort who guides strangers through foreign terrain” (Bök 2015, 153); his example also suggests a prefiguration in Orpheus and anticipates the genetic poem “Orpheus”: “Orpheus, the xenos (the ‘foreigner’), enters the underworld, testing its hospitality, expecting the Greek edict of xenia (of ‘offerings’) to be honored. The Xenotext is such an alien guest, courting the goodwill of a demonic microbe that might ‘host’ the poem for a future reader” (Bök 2015, 153). Thinking of Harold Bloom, Virgil enacts a complicated anxiety of influence upon Bök’s imagination, furnishing the founding poetry of The Xenotext (Book 1) but also performing the role of guide to an Underworld that has hitherto only offered us the reminders of our failure to recover both forms of desire, the beloved Eurydice and the artistic triumph of “Eurydice.” In addition to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, readers will also encounter a pastoral strand in The Xenotext (Book 1), especially the beekeeperpoet of the “Colony Collapse Disorder” section. Bök translates the fourth book of Virgil’s Georgics to produce a “pastoral nocturne.” In this section, a beekeeper-poet breaks from discussions about apiaries to tell the stories of two mythic figures, Aristaeus and Orpheus, who set off to recover from the Underworld their bee colony and their beloved, respectively. Bök makes clear that the modern reader should take “special meaning” from the examples of Aristaeus and Orpheus because we inhabit an “era when bees are threatened with extinction” (Bök 2015, 153). “Colony Collapse Disorder” thus connects an ancient, pastoral narrative about stewardship to our shared moment of human-caused mass extinction events. This cleaving of stewardship and apocalyptic consequences remains one of the more common, if dramatic, arguments in environmental writing. For a project about a genetic, enduring art, the beekeeper poet represents an early artist in genetic material, overseeing artificial selection, nutrition, and environmental controls as a means of extracting the finest honey; importantly, Virgil’s poet also acts as an incidental prophet simultaneously urging responsible care for animal species and, by way of juxtaposition, condemning our own practices of industrial slaughter and colony collapse disorder. I have argued that the aesthetic of a dark ecology demands a new set of hermeneutics capable of continuing, along with the author, down the road of critical choice. Organicism and its formalist update, the New Criticism, represent familiar specters to the twenty-first-century critic. Organicism, arguably that most–Romantic of aesthetic and philosophical stances, operates according to a sense of maximal efficiency. In his extensive entry for “organ-

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icism” in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, G. N. G. Orsini defines the term as the “assumption that a work of art may be compared to a living organism, so that the relation between the parts of a work is neither arbitrary nor factitious, but as close and intimate as that between the organs of a living body” (Orsini 1973, 421). As aesthetic ideal, organicism posits the possibility of a text without need for context, requiring a boundary that is closed rather than open, rounded rather than extended. We can see in this line of thinking—unity to boundary, boundary to function—why so many scholars of New Criticism turned toward organicism and the dream of a hermetically sealed, aesthetically efficient text as a basis for a coherent, formalist hermeneutics. Already in these assumptions, we can witness why allegory and apostrophe became embarrassments for scholars steeped in New Criticism— these modes of writing and figures point to an “elsewhere” from the text, suggesting that it exists within a literary ecosystem. And yet, if we are to disregard organicist assumptions in our reading of The Xenotext (Book 1), then what boundaries can we lay down to appropriately frame an effective reading? In a much earlier interview about his book Eunoia, Bök teases that his work always incorporates “unmentioned constraints”; however, as Sean Gurd has explained, the practice of hunting for such constraints will produce knowledge that is in “epistemological limbo” because only the author can confirm their existence (Gurd 2019, 77). This problem, I think, represents a hermeneutics of digression rather than a hermeneutics of critical choice: Instead of sticking with the difficulties of the text itself, the reader obsesses over the literary Easter eggs. To honor this warning, the remainder of this essay with focus on “The Nocturne of Orpheus,” the anagrammatic and double acrostic echo of Keats’s “When I Consider That I May Cease to Be,” as a literary embodiment of critical choice, a poetic commitment to sticking with typographic materials to a point flirting with absurdity. To begin, then, I provide Keats’s sonnet below: When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, Before high–pilèd books, in charactery, Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain; When I behold, upon the night’s starred face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, And think that I may never live to trace Their shadows with the magic hand of chance; And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, That I shall never look upon thee more, Never have relish in the faery power Of unreflecting love—then on the shore Of the wide world I stand alone, and think Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.


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Thomas Connolly recognizes Keats as an excellent student of the sonnet form, arguing that the poet “was certainly aware of the structure–thought relationship of the Shakespearean sonnet in which the problem or complication is stated in three quatrains and resolved in a couplet” (Connolly 1954, 33). In his essay on The Xenotext (Book 1), Gurd similarly reads Keats’s poem as a lament developed over three stanzas and concluding with melancholy acceptance: “Here the sensation of life is subjected to a kind of anticipatory grief: joy, centred in the experience of the subject, proves inadequate to overcome the subject’s awareness of its own demise” (Gurd 2019, 67). If Gurd reads Keats’s sonnet as the culmination of “anticipatory grief,” then he interprets Bök’s anagrammatic response as emotional and formal complement: “In a reversal of the process in which the ‘masculine’ poem ‘Orpheus’ begets the ‘feminine’ poem ‘Euridice,’ Keats’ ‘woebegone’ sonnet begets the more assertive one of Bök” (Gurd 2019, 67). Anagrams and acrostic poetry enjoy a long, if subterranean, history in Western literature. While a robust treatment of both forms cannot be properly elaborated in the present chapter, I wish to focus on R. H. Pearce’s observation about the relationship between the popularity of these forms in Puritan letters and the so-called “book of the world,” an old metaphor popular among not only religious separatists but to budding gentlemen scientists. In The Continuity of American Poetry, Pearce locates the popularity of anagrams and acrostic to a Puritan insistence that aesthetics, morality, and nature follow a coherent pattern. Pearce traces this worldview back to the writing of Peter Ramus, a theologian who emphasized the God–given powers of an individual to observe and to make sense of God’s creation (Pearce 1977, 32). By extension, then, the popularity of forms like the anagram and acrostic poems invite the reader into a more universal practice of reading that might lead, eventually, from poem to nature to true faith: In his Ramist-inspired handbooks he [the Puritan] was shown again and again that the structure of all human discourse was such that it could be diagrammed and laid out in space for the viewing and the understanding. No wonder he was so comfortable in the anagrammatic elegy: a poem par excellence laid out on the printed page, its meaning to be grasped as something completely there, built into the structure once and for all—strictly speaking, not subject to “interpretation” (Pearce 1961, 33).

Pearce has in mind something like a “theological hermeneutic” in his speculations about the Puritan poet—the book of the world can be laid out so clearly that interpretation (and therefore false religion) is no longer possible. Though it may seem odd in a study about genetic art by a Canadian avantgarde poet to harken back to Puritan history, Pearce’s emphasis here on Ramist thinking and, in particular, on the poet’s duty to lay out, diagram, and to deeply consider written characters in the book of nature does seem an

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early prefiguration of Bok’s own language construing nature itself as a kind of book, albeit a book capable of frustrating the authors who attempt to write inside its pages. Bök’s choice to print the poem in all caps recalls the tradition of labeling nucleotides with an initial capitalized letter; additionally, Bök’s justification of the poem makes reading the double acrostic easier (“the maiden in her dark, pale meadow”) and harkens back to nucleotide pairs. In the poem’s anagrammatic transformation, the rhyme scheme from Keats’s sonnet has been mostly lost with the exception of the final couplet; despite this structural change, “The Nocturne of Orpheus” maintains a similar thought–structure to Keats’s sonnet. But what strikes me most about “The Nocturne of Orpheus” is the ways that the poem continues to conjure absences: The funereal “dirge” of the first line becomes the site for the poet’s “covenant of love,” which concludes on both “ache” and “sorrow.” Against this melancholic strain, the poet relies upon pleas and encipherment, confident at least that both “sonnet” and “key” will ultimately fulfill the angel’s “dream of dusk.” Failure becomes equivalent to death and writing—as both techne and as inheritance. The literal failures alluded to in The Xenotext (Book 1), as well as the failures thematized through the nocturnal pastoral of the second section, suggest at least a material and figurative critique of the masculine poet-encoder. For all of the power–knowledge opened up by genetic engineering, the fact that a modern Orpheus could not call forth his Eurydice suggests that we should proceed with the disappointment but also hope. To live with this failure through art is, in a certain sense, the dark ecological ethic because it is the critical choice. NOTES 1. To distinguish between Bök’s project and the published book, I will refer to the former as The Xenotext and to the latter as The Xenotext (Book 1). 2. In “Poetry for the Apocalypse,” poet and critic Michael Leong explains why D. radiodurans is such an appealing vessel for Bök’s project: “Affectionately nicknamed ‘Conan the Bacterium, ‘Deinococcus radiodurans, a so–called polyextremophile, has an uncanny ability to rapidly repair damage to its genome. As a result, it can resist the most hostile conditions, from drought to radiation to acid baths to a Martian atmosphere” (248). 3. For a more extensive treatment of “mesh,” see Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). 4. See Jack T. O’Malley-James et al., “Swansong Biospheres: Refuges for life and novel microbial biospheres on terrestrial planets near the end of their habitable lifetimes,” International Journal of Astrobiology 12, no. 2: 99–112. 5. See McPhee, Basin and Range (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981).

REFERENCES Bök, Christian. 2008. “The Xenotext Experiment.” SCRIPTed 5, no. 2: 227–31. ———. 2015. The Xenotext (Book 1). Toronto: Coach House Books.


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Buckland, Adelene. 2013. Novel Science: Fiction and the Invention of Nineteenth–Century Geology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Chabon, Michael. 2006. “The Future Will Have to Wait.” The Long Now Foundation 2, (January). http://longnow.org/essays/omega-glory/. Connolly, Thomas. 1954. “Keats’ ‘When I Fears That I May Cease to Be. ’” The Explicator 14, no. 3: 33–35. Eno, Brian. “The Big Here and the Long Now.” The Long Now Foundation. http://longnow. org/essays/big-here-long-now/. Gessert, George. 1993. “Notes on Genetic Art.” Leonardo 26, no. 3 (June): 205–11. Gurd, Sean. 2019. “Orpheus, Euridice, and the classical tradition in Christian Bök’s Xenotext.” Classical Receptions Journal 11, no. 1: 61–80. Morton, Timothy. 2017. Ecology without Nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Orsini, G. N. G. 1973. “Organicism.” In Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Philip P. Weiner. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Palmer, A. R. 2005. “What Do We Mean By the Global Commons?” BASIN, December 27, 2005. http://bcn.boulder.co.us/basin/local/sustain1.html. Pearce, R. H. 1961. The Continuity of American Poetry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Ryan, John Charles. 2017. “Biological Processes as Writerly? An Ecological Critique of DNA–based Poetry.” Environmental Humanities 9, no. 1 (May): 129–48. Shields, David S. 1986. “Mental Nocturnes: Night Thoughts on Man and Nature in the Poetry of Eighteenth-Century America.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 110, no. 2: 237–58. Surridge, Matthew. 2016. “The Xenotext: A Living Poem.” Splice Today, April 7 2016. https:// www.splicetoday.com/writing/the-xenotext-a-living-poem. Sword, Helen. 1989. “Orpheus and Eurydice in the Twentieth Century: Lawrence, H. D, and the Poetics of the Turn.” Twentieth-Century Literature 35, no. 4: 407–28.

Chapter Nine

A Poetic Correspondence on Ecology and the More–than–Human World Allan Cooper and Harry Thurston’s The Deer Yard Leonor M. Martínez Serrano

MAPPING LANDSCAPES ACROSS CANADA Canadian poets Allan Cooper and Harry Thurston write a species of poetry that is deeply steeped in the natural world. The Deer Yard (2013) is a jewellike poetic correspondence by two writers responding to the environment on opposite Canadian coasts. In the winter of 2009, Thurston served a term as a writer-in-residence on Vancouver Island, near Campbell River, while Cooper was at home in Alma, New Brunswick, a small fishing village on the Bay of Fundy. Following the model of the Wang River Sequence, a poetic correspondence written by the Chinese poets Wang Wei and P’ei Ti over 1,200 years ago, Thurston would send his friend one or two of his Imagist poems set in Campbell River and Cooper would respond from home contributing poems of his own, using certain ideas, words or images as his leaping-off point. As in the case of the celebrated Chinese correspondence, the paired poems together created a third poem, “as if something or someone else was present” (2013, n. p.), writes Cooper. “We could say it is the luminous presence of the natural world.” At any rate, the resulting twenty-one pairs of meditative poems chronicle a single winter season as experienced by two men who are highly sensitive to the green world and succeed in building what Cooper calls “a small soul house somewhere between Campbell River and Alma.” They “not only span a season, with its darkness opening into light,” the first poem having been written on December 5 and the last on 119


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March 24, but also a continent, as they “embody a conversation, coast-tocoast, west-to-east and back again,” writes Thurston. As Lynn White claims, our Judeo–Christian tradition is dominated by “an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco–Roman antiquity or to the Orient” (1996, 9). In fact, “Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen,” as it “not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends” (1996, 9–10). The first chapter of the Book of Genesis is eloquent in this respect, as God creates man in his own image and urges him to multiply, replenish and subdue the earth. From that point onwards, humans beings are to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, / and over the fowl of the air, / and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Bringhurst 2018, 10). It comes as no surprise that Thurston and Cooper should have turned to the example of the Chinese masters, who understood the deep connection between the human and the natural worlds. “Like many other Western poets, we have looked to the East, to classical Chinese poetry, as one model to best express our relationship with what we now call the environment, a no less reverential term than Nature,” points out Thurston, who rightly observes that Wang Wei and P’ei Ti’s poems were part of the landscape or wilderness tradition. As such, their poems were a reflection of the secular and yet profoundly spiritual ecology of early Taoist thought, 1 a worldview which “accords with modern ecological science, in which there is no separation between the human and more-than-human world,” a philosophy that both Canadian poets willingly embrace. Even if the world’s physical environment is “being increasingly refashioned by capital, technology, and geopolitics” (Buell 2001, 5), the poems in The Deer Yard remind us of a primordial lesson: being is one and plural, every single object in the world is distinctly unique and yet is connected to everything else along a boundless continuum of existence. This is the first Law of Ecology: “Everything is connected to everything else,” says Rueckert (1996, 108). Despite Soper’s staunch defense of the independent existence of the reality of nature from its cultural representation (“it is not language that has a hole in its ozone layer” (1995, 151), she wrote), Cooper and Thurston respond to the environment with language, as words appear to be the most sophisticated tool they have to capture the fleeting biosemiotic nuances of a world upon which they do not even seek to impose any kind of domination. Cooper and Thurston’s poems encompass the singing of all human and nonhuman species, or, to put it differently, they capture what Herder called Earth’s poesy. As Rigby claims, “If, as ancient tradition has it, human speech first took the form of song, then, Herder (. . .) speculates, this must have comprised a “concerto,” composed out of the diverse vocalizations of other creatures (. . .) The human poesy of words is thought to have enjoyed its first flowering as a mode of participation in the polyphonic song of the Earth”

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(2016, 54). In this respect, Cooper and Thurston’s view of language as a sort of outgrowth of nature has striking similarities with Gary Snyder’s. In “Language Goes Two Ways,” the American ecopoet affirms: “languages were not the intellectual inventions of archaic schoolteachers, but are naturally evolved wild systems” (2000, 127). This chapter is a close reading of The Deer Yard based on fundamental ecocritical premises. More specifically, it seeks to examine how, in their poetic correspondence, both Canadian poets embrace a biocentric rather than an anthropocentric philosophy in the face of the awe–inspiring grandeur of the natural world. Although they are writing with the burden of literary tradition on their shoulders, looking at nature through a prism that cannot be but a cultural construct, they manage to build a space of imaginative emancipation where nature affirms its precedence over words time and again. Poems happen to be made of words steeped in a long literary tradition, but poetry might well be an attribute of reality that poets seek to capture the best way they can through the medium of language. What the attentive reader gets to listen to in The Deer Yard is not the fury of nature taking revenge or striking back against human domination, but the rhythms of a more-than-human world quietly following its course—the cycle of the seasons, falling snow in winter, salmon running upriver, tree branches falling and decaying, and flowers blooming in springtime. LESSONS LEARNT FROM THE ORIENTAL MASTERS Allan Cooper and Harry Thurston are two of Canada’s best nature poets. Based in Alma, New Brunswick, Cooper is a prolific songwriter, performer, and poet who has published fifteen books of poetry, including Singing the Flowers Open (2001), Gabriel’s Wing (2004), The Alma Elegies (2007), and Everything We’ve Loved Comes Back to Find Us (2017). He has twice won the Alfred G. Bailey Award for poetry and received the Peter Gzowski Award in 1994. For his part, Thurston, who lives in Tidnish Bridge, Nova Scotia, is a renowned poet, journalist, and naturalist. His poetry collections include If Men Lived on Earth (2000), Island of the Blessed (2003), A Ship Portrait (2005), Broken Vessel (2007), Animals of My Own Kind (2010), and Keeping Watch at the End of the World (2015). He is also the author of twelve nonfiction books and his environmental writing has been published in many of North America’s leading magazines. What brings Cooper and Thurston together is not just a sense of mutual admiration and a long friendship sustained over time, but also a deep reverence for the nonhuman world. Given the sheer immensity of Canada’s geography, it is no wonder that these nature poets should have made up their minds at some point to capture the landscapes where their lives unfold through a poetic correspondence. Most


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interestingly, the twenty-one paired poems that make up The Deer Yard are not just the fruit of a firsthand encounter with the green world and a thoughtful meditation on its beauty and vulnerability at a time of environmental crisis, but also an accomplished literary response to the Wang River Sequence, composed in the eighth century AD as the result of another literary friendship, that of the Tang Dynasty poets Wang Wei and P’ei Ti. Known as the “poet–Buddha,” Wang Wei (699–759) was a prominent government official, an aristocrat and a talented poet, painter and musician of the Tang Dynasty who expressed his desire to withdraw from the pressures of public life. He excelled in painting bamboo forests and scenery of mountains and rivers, though none of his paintings have survived. By contrast, some four hundred poems of his have been preserved, among them the wellknown Wang River Sequence, a series of twenty pieces inspired by places and features of his Lantian estate for which P’ei Ti wrote his replying couplets. Far away from the pressures of city life, his country home in the Wang River mountain valley afforded him relative seclusion to spend time with friends and monks, roaming the hills and waters, painting and writing, practicing Buddhism in his later years. Like his paintings, his deceptively simple poems depict quiet scenes of water and mist, with little human presence, and affirm the beauty of the natural world. The first-person singular rarely appears in Chinese poetry, and Wang Wei is no exception to this rule. The ego vanishes or is simply relegated to the background; the natural world takes precedence over the human perceiver. There is no superfluous ornament in his poems, just le mot juste, and there is deep thinking that betrays his interest in Buddhism, which taught him the illusory nature of reality and the value of nothingness. Prototypically, his poems feature no onlookers of the natural world and seek to capture the green world unfolding spontaneously in the form of clear-cut images suspended mid-air or frozen slices of the wild. No wonder the Sung poet, painter and critic Su Shi (1036–1101) observed: “Taste Wang Wei’s poetry—there are paintings in it; look at his paintings— they are full of poetry” (Ward 2007, 7). Though the handful of poems in The Deer Yard is mostly concerned with uncovering the sublimity and beauties implicit in the nonhuman world, pulsing deep beneath them is the sense of their utter fragility and finitude in the age of the Anthropocene, “an episode of geologic time during which the wild is subverted by the tame” (Bringhurst 2018, 17). Wang Wei and P’ei Ti lived in a very different historical (and geological) epoch from Cooper and Thurston, though. As Bringhurst rightly observes, the old Chinese term for nature or the wild is zìrán, which means “just like itself” or “that’s the way it is.” He further elaborates on the intrinsically ecological dimension of zìrán: There is a passage in the Dào Dé Jing, the classic of Lâo Zi, that says (. . .): “Humans align themselves with the earth; earth aligns itself with the sky; the

A Poetic Correspondence on Ecology and the More–than–Human World


sky aligns itself with the Tao, the Tao aligns itself with nature”—or “the Tao aligns itself with the wild,” or “the Tao aligns itself with being what it is.” (2018, 17)

Wang Wei and P’ei Ti possibly calibrated their minds in the wild, which Bringhurst defines as “earth living its life to the full” (2018, 12) or as “a big, self–integrating system whose edges are everywhere and whose centre is nowhere” (2018, 33). The Chinese poets went to the wilderness to gain wisdom from the woods, mountains, and rivers, to align themselves with the wild, which flourishes without human control or supervision. Hence, their poetry betrays not an irresistible impulse to take dominion over the nonhuman world, not the exploitative attitude of modern capitalism to the earth that appears to prevail in the dominant cultures of the Western world, but rather a sense that knowing is not owning. We do not own what we know. What we know is the biosphere, which is a unique network of subtle interconnections, a plural and irreplaceable multifaceted being that is mortal, because all forms of life are mortal after all. Ecology precisely emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things, human and nonhuman alike, and ecopoetry, that is, poetry that is sensitive to the value of the wild and the need to preserve it, has the hunch that it is life, not homo sapiens, that is the center of what is. Ecocentrism is thus a form of humanism that is sensitive to a more-than-human world. Naess expresses it in memorable terms: “The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent worth). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes” (1995, 68). In much the same way Wang Wei and P’ei Ti responded to the nonhuman world with deep astonishment and environmental respect, 1,200 years later, Cooper and Thurston seem to respond to nature with emotional containment, objectivity, and impersonality and yet with the gut feeling that humans are an inextricable part of the living mesh of things. The record of this encounter is the twenty-one pairs of poems in The Deer Yard , poems that set the day-today rhythms of nature and motions of the seasons above the interior life of the mind. Or rather, interior and exterior, mind and world, self and not-self are not represented as being two opposing realms, but as spheres between which the dividing line appears to have vanished for good. It no longer seems appropriate to talk about human subject and natural object, for the Cartesian subject/object distinction is made to vanish in poems where the ego is conspicuously absent. It is the natural, nonhuman world that always takes precedence. Upon closer scrutiny, the poems in The Deer Yard are transcriptions of the song of the earth, rendered in accurate language by means of the skilled control of rhythm and musicality. These are poems of deceiving simplicity and architectural mastery that project, in Bate’s words, an image of “man as part of nature, not apart from nature” (2000, 20), whilst betraying


Leonor M. Martínez Serrano

that Cooper and Thurston are men who, like Thoreau in the American classic Walden (1854), live deliberately, that is to say, with thoughtfulness and with an attentiveness and attunement to both the minutest particulars of the world and the words of their poems. As Bate claims, even though we humans make sense of the world by way of words, we do not live apart from the world, for “culture and environment are held together in a complex and delicate web” (2000, 23). Though culture is everything that is human-made and nature is everything that is untainted or untouched by humans, there is no denying that both are inevitably linked to each other. The Deer Yard poems ultimately convey the experience of dwelling in and with the earth, the experiencing of the earth itself. In this respect, this book of poems represents an exemplary humanist text that embodies a renunciation of the claim to mastery and possession of nature that is so characteristic of the Western mindset and of the practices of capitalism and neoliberalism. Bond and tie replace mastery and possession, or, to put it differently, a caring as opposed to an exploitative relationship with the earth ultimately prevails, for The Deer Yard poems are thinkings of our bonds with each other (they are also a subtle celebration of friendship and human community) and thinkings of fragile, beautiful, necessary ecological wholeness. As Aldo Leopold memorably expressed it in A Sand County Almanac, “the land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land” (1968, 204). The biotic community transcends human communities; it is larger and more comprehensive in a way. “A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such” (Leopold 1968, 204) and “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” (1968, 224–225). FRACTAL STRUCTURES, OR THE PERFECT GEOMETRY OF THE EARTH From Wang Wei and P’ei Ti, Cooper and Thurston learned a profound sense of ecological integrity, but their rewriting of the Wang River Sequence has a distinctively Canadian inflection. The twenty-one paired poems comprising The Deer Yard are a celebration of things that are valuable because they are mortal, because they are finite and fragile within a larger biotic community. In their singularity, they are also a deft portrait of a recognizably Canadian universe, populated by salmon and trout, fir trees and rhododendrons, rain and snow, kingfisher and deer, mountains and rivers, winter jasmine and plum blossoms. Poetry is ultimately rooted in physical place, in the stubborn

A Poetic Correspondence on Ecology and the More–than–Human World


materiality of a particular environment—or, to honor accuracy, of two particular places, Vancouver Island near Campbell River and Alma, on opposite Canadian coasts. The poems seek to mimic the contemplative mode of the Shanshui (“Mountains and Streams”) school of classical Chinese poetry, as well as its impersonality, emotional detachment and objectivity. As Wang argues in “Calling through the Cold,” a review of The Deer Yard, “haiku-like in their brevity and in their treatment of the natural world, these poems chronicle the passing of a season” (2014, n. p.). In their simplicity and muted emotionality, they reminisce Wang Wei and P’ei Ti’s Wang River Sequence: These spare poems evoke each poet’s striving to observe the non–human world in deferential ways. The book plots the passing of time, from the first snow towards the eventual spring and homecoming. While trails, groves, and rivers are the overt subjects of their attention, reflections on absence and aging slip into Cooper and Thurston’s exchange. (. . .) Their allusions to the passing years add a sense of gravity and immensity to their observations on nature’s lifecycles. (Wang 2014, n. p.)

The book’s title piece, “The Deer Yard (after Wang Wei),” is a technical accomplishment and a homage to the wise Chinese poet. “Deer Park” or “Deer Enclosure,” which denotes a place, is one of the most well-known poems in the Wang River Sequence. Over the years it has been translated into a wide range of languages, to such a degree that Weinberger and Paz devoted the 1987 book-length essay Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei to a study of the different translations of this one single poem into English, French, German and Spanish. The experience of comparing different translations and imitations of the poem gave them the opportunity to meditate on the gains and losses inherent in literary translation. At any rate, the core concept around which “The Deer Yard (after Wang Wei)” pivots is Buddhist nothingness. The first of the two paired poems turns out to be an accomplished translation when set side by side other English translations of the same poem by such eminent poets as Kenneth Rexroth or Gary Snyder. 2 The overall texture of the first poem contributed by Thurston is one of objectivity, impersonality and detached compassion in the face of the beauty of the natural world: “and at day’s end the low slanting sun / enters the deep forest, shining again / on the green moss” (2013, n.p.). As can be seen from these lines, the sensorial focus is on the world, not on the perceiving self, which is dissolved into a particular ecosystem—one consisting of mountains, forest, sunlight, and green moss. This is an empty landscape that has been stripped of all human presence, untainted by the species homo sapiens, except for the faint echo of voices far in the distance. Beneath the poem is the scanning conscience of a perceiving subject that is tracing the subtle motions of light on the surface of things in the green world. This is poetry for the senses, one that addresses the sight and the hearing of an alert reader or


Leonor M. Martínez Serrano

listener who might care to look and listen attentively to a world that speaks the language of what-is in the grammar of being. The nothingness that is speaks to the attentive observer and listener. All might be illusory or sensorial deceit, but deep beneath the surface of things there remains the inscrutable, undying core of being. By contrast, in the second of the two paired poems making up the composition, Cooper’s response to Thurston’s translation of Wang Wei’s “Deer Park,” the lyric subject directly addresses Thurston’s voice (or is it Wang Wei’s in the original “Deer Park”?) and, in a moment of literary self-reflexivity, he reminds readers of The Deer Yard of the material circumstances surrounding the composition of this book of poetry. Thurston’s (and Wang Wei’s) voice is capable of traversing vast tracts of land (and eons of time) to reach Cooper on the opposite Canadian coast. There is clarity and conviction to that voice which speaks of nothingness and of being incarnated in the green world. And the second of the two paired poems closes with two detached statements on the grass and the light that announces that a new day has come: “The green moss bristles in the cold; / each morning the new light opens the fields.” At dawn not only is a new day born, but the promise of life is renewed, with the fields being uncovered as if for the first time. Not nihil novum sub sole, but quite the opposite: a new day brings the promise of a new mode of dwelling with the earth in which humans are set into a new relationship with the objects of nature. “First Snow, Mid–December” is a weather poem in the Romantic tradition as conceptualized by Bate in The Song of the Earth (2000). Once again, Thurston contributes the first of the two paired pieces, which is an objective transcript of the natural world, a winter landscape covered with the first snow of the season. It has snowed all night for the first time in winter, and as the sun rises, Thurston writes: “The branches bear the weight / of this winter blossoming, whiter than dogwood— / But one has broken under its cold beauty.” In lines of consummate poetic artistry, the speaking persona strings words together closely merged with each other through the alliteration of /b/ and /w/. Through language stripped of its excess and lushness, the first poem in the composition captures a potent image of trees bursting not into spring blossoming, but into winter blossoming. And yet flowers and buds have been replaced by white snowflakes, the perfect embodiment of fractal structures in the natural world. The overall impression is a monochromatic landscape seen in the first light of day, pervaded by silence, frozen into an aesthetic object of lasting beauty for good. In its haiku-like brevity, it is also a painting in miniature (ut pictura poesis), one devoid of human presence, which could have well been painted with the deft economy of a few brush strokes by Wang Wei in the secluded retreat of his Lantian state. What is truly disturbing about this winter postcard of peace and quiet is the fissure shown by the branch broken under the weight of the fallen snow.

A Poetic Correspondence on Ecology and the More–than–Human World


It comes as no surprise that the image of the broken branch should have been the starting point for Cooper’s replying poem. It could be read in multiple ways. A broken branch might well be subtly expressive of impending ecological catastrophe: climate change brings about an increase in temperatures and the melting of the ice around the world. At present, there is remarkable consensus amongst scientists about the environmental threats posed by the suicidal practices of capitalism and neoliberalism. The litany of environmental woes is endless. Bate summarises them masterfully: Carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels is trapping the heat of the sun, causing the planet to become warmer. Glaciers and permafrost are melting, sea levels rising, rainfall patterns changing, winds growing stronger. Meanwhile, the oceans are overfished, deserts are spreading, forests shrinking, fresh water becoming scarcer. The diversity of species upon the planet is diminishing. We live in a world of toxic waste, acid rain and endocrine disrupters (. . .). The urban air carries a cocktail of pollutants: nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, benzene, carbon monoxide and more. In intensively farmed economies, the topsoil is so eroded that the growth of cereal crops is entirely dependent on artificial fertilizers. (2000, 24)

But a broken branch also says: “Et in Arcadia ego.” Not only is nature finite and vulnerable, as shown in the first poem by Thurston, but also mortal. All forms of life are singular and exposed (to death). A transcendental shift happens in the transition from the first to the second poem in this composition: the subjectivity of a “we” that acknowledges its own mortality enters the natural scene. At this point, the imaginary ecosystem of the text becomes something larger than a piece of descriptive biology. The broken branch becomes a powerful metaphor and stands for the fragility of (human) life all of a sudden (Dante spoke of “nell mezzo del camin dei nostra vita,” once the threshold of maturity is crossed). More branches will break under the weight of snow or through mere exposure to the force of winds, blizzards and gales; more human lives will be lost. And yet, as the lyric voice confesses in the closing lines of Cooper’s piece, “Part of us wants to live forever; another wants / to lie down with that branch beneath the heavy snow.” The alert reader will witness the birth of an eco-poetic consciousness in the imaginary space created by both paired poems, as they postulate a way of dwelling in oneness with the earth. 3 It might be enough that we are part of the earth and the earth is part of us. It should suffice. This is a moment when the difference between perceiving self and perceived natural object disappears and the earth becomes a home where all things cohere and are part of a tightly woven unity. In a poem entitled “World without Peculiarity” included in The Auroras of Autumn, Stevens precisely writes: “It is the earth itself that is humanity” (1984, 454). It might suffice for the poetic persona to lie down next to the broken, dead branch in an act of ecological empathy, and to let itself go


Leonor M. Martínez Serrano

or vanish into nothingness. However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that all human beings want to live longer. It is a cupiditas naturalis, in much the same way everyone wants to know and understand. This hunger for life everlasting cannot ever be appeased. In Unamuno’s words in his meditation “The Secret of Life,” the desire for life is the core secret of life: And the secret of human life, the universal secret, the root secret from which all other secrets spring, is the longing for more life, the furious and insatiable desire to be everything else without ever ceasing to be ourselves, to take possession of the entire universe without letting the universe take possession of us and absorb us. (1974, 200)

THE ANCIENT WISDOM OF MOUNTAINS AND TREES Ancient wisdom, rather cosmic, to borrow the title of one of Ezra Pound’s early poems, seems to be pervasive in The Deer Yard. In the piece “Passage to the Islands,” readers are reminded of the ancestral fascination mountains have held for humans ever since antiquity. In Mountains of the Mind (2008), Robert Macfarlane explains the history of how the human imagination has been possessed by mountains, massive masses of rock and ice fashioned by long millennia of geological change, often conceived as awe-inspiring or sacred places associated with gods or spirit beings to be avoided or contemplated with deep devotion. In this vein, Thurston records the presence of majestic mountain peaks on the horizon, towering high above the islands, with almost scientific rigor and objectivity: “In the south the great white mountain / peaks above the blue backs of the islands.” The landscape is recognizably Canadian: the green and blue West Coast of British Columbia, somewhere close to Vancouver Island. The sense of awe in the face of the sublime grandeur of the peaks above the islands is conveyed with emotional containment once again. Meanwhile, “a thousand gulls fly up in protest,” reclaiming their territory in the presence of human beings as symbolized by a ferry. It is Cooper, though, who brings into this composition a meditative turn that adds a deep sense of gravity. The second of the two paired poems equates the inert mass of rock of Cooper’s Alma hills with a living creature—whales surfacing in the ocean waters. The sighting of the hills/whales as the sun sets prompts the lyric subject to meditate on death and mortality. Everything we’ve loved comes back to find us, reads one of the titles of Cooper’s poetry collections. Cooper writes: “I love the simplicity of the woodcock, / spearing his beak in the earthen bank all afternoon.” These lines are tinged with nostalgia, as evidenced by the rhetorical question “How many living harvests will we see?,” which points to aging and the passing of time. Nature in Cooper’s poem is both tame and wild at the same time, as sug-

A Poetic Correspondence on Ecology and the More–than–Human World


gested by the allusion to harvests, which betray humans’ domestication of the land for agricultural purposes, and by the reference to hills/whales, which are an iconic part of the wild. The reintegration of the human (the perceiving, meditating self) and the other (the hills at dusk, the breaching whales, the woodcock) is accomplished with an elegance and simplicity that seek to mimic that of hills, whales and woodcocks, which have no desire in them other than being themselves. This is the primordial lesson taught by nature: the simplicity of everything that is, ontology and metaphysics at home with each other, one and the same thing. Trees also know best how to be nothing but themselves. They are endowed with an ancestral wisdom that is their own prerogative. Thus, the poem entitled “Cathedral Grove” enacts a journey into the green world and captures a state of complete absorption of the self into nature. Amid kingly trees, the lyric persona sings: “I stand in their humid silence as if submerged / in deep green water—all around, sunken ships.” This is the only poem in The Deer Yard where the I figures so prominently in the first of the two paired poems, powerfully evoking Emerson’s words on the self as “a transparent eyeball,” written in his Transcendentalist manifesto, “Nature,” as early as 1836: In the woods, we return to reason and faith. (. . .) Standing on the bare ground—my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God. (2003, 39)

In “Cathedral Grove” the self is immersed in an elemental world of greenness, surrounded by trees that resemble “sunken ships,” because the forest is akin to the deep waters of a vast ocean. The prize of this intoxication with the spirit of natural things (trees, humidity, silence) is a journey back to the wild as the ultimate source of what-is. This is not tame, domesticated nature, but self–regenerative wilderness that flourishes alone, without humans’ intervention. Completely immersed in the wild, the self feels at one with the green world and becomes a tiny thread in the gigantic mesh of natural things. Rousseau conveys a similar sense of sensorial intoxication in Les rêveries du promeneur solitaire (Reveries of the Solitary Walker): The more sensitive the soul of the observer, the greater the ecstasy aroused in him by this harmony [of the green world]. At such times his senses are possessed by a deep and delightful reverie, and in a state of blissful self-abandonment he loses himself in the immensity of this beautiful order, with which he feels himself at one. All individual objects escape him; he sees and feels nothing but the unity of all things. (1979, 108)


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The treasure-house of a forest is tantamount to the wisdom gained by trees throughout their arboreal existence: “Those great-grandfather trees are wise, / but keep silent,” writes Cooper. But the Earth will not yield or unveil its wisdom, unless the self is ready to give up its compulsion to conquer and take dominion over nature. Knowing, not owning. We do not own what we know. This is why the great-grandfather trees are figuratively represented in the poem as being old binnacled mariners. They scan the horizon “for the resurrection of light” because it is wintertime, when daylight is still scarce, and they are patiently waiting for spring and the renewal of everything green. At any rate, the woods are the genuine home of being-at-one-with-nature, a clearing where humans give up the logic of domination over the nonhuman. After all, as Heidegger puts it in his ecophilosophy, “Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being” (1993, 245). Being (Dasein) entails dwelling in and with the earth in a relationship of duty and responsibility. Trees are ubiquitous and a sort of anthropological universal across human civilizations. In Forests. The Shadow of Civilization (1992), Robert Pogue Harrison has remarkably demonstrated how Western civilization has defined itself in relation to the forest and how the advance of imperialistic expansionism has brought about deforestation and the mass destruction of trees. Using as his starting point Giambattista Vico’s notion in The New Science that the order of human institutions was this: first the forests, then the huts, then the villages, next the city and finally the academies, Harrison claims that each stage represents a different way of dwelling in and with the earth. He writes: “as huts give way to villages and then to cities and finally to cosmopolitan academies, the forests move further and further away from the center of the clearings. At the center one eventually forgets that one is dwelling in a clearing. The center becomes utopic” (1992, 245). And yet, he argues, “in the depths of cultural memory forests remain the correlate of human transcendence” (Harrison 1992, 247). This is why Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately and conduct an ecological experiment that he then immortalized in Walden (1854): “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately” (1986, 135). Thoreau’s intense concentration upon the virtues of silence and contemplation of nature would become an inspiring model for subsequent nature writers and ecopoets, as he is the epitome of “the sage retreating from the bustle of civilized life to rediscover the fundamental truths of human existence” (Garrard 2012, 55). This is why innumerable poets go the woods to become whole again by calibrating their minds in the wild. Cooper and Thurston’s poetic correspondence in The Deer Yard comes to an end with the promise of homecoming in “Winter Plum Blossoms,” a poem which owes much to the minimalism, limpidity, and terseness of Wang Wei and P’ei Ti’s Wang River Sequence. The first poem, contributed by Thurston, is a jewel-like Imagist piece that celebrates the coming of the spring and the resurrection of light: “Winter plum blossoms press against / the night pane

A Poetic Correspondence on Ecology and the More–than–Human World


like near stars. Under my lids / the sleepless river jumps white over stones.” Thurston juxtaposes the unstoppable Heraclitean flux of Campbell River with the stasis of sleep. In his sleep, the river keeps on flowing relentlessly towards the ocean. The promise of a new day means that home is closer to the poet: once his residency on Vancouver Island is over, he will return to his home and his family in Nova Scotia. Home and domesticity are precisely the leaping-off point for Cooper’s poem written in response to Thurston’s. First, he dwells on salmon swimming upriver, desperately fighting for survival, “making its way up the brook from the bay.” The river is a powerful metaphor that represents life, and the salmon cycle evokes the alternation of life and death. In the closing lines, we get to listen to Cooper the mystic poet: “At night, stars catch in the water like silver scales; / each of our dreams is the longing for home.” Ultimately, the wild might be humans’ true home. Bate reminds us wisely of the etymology of the word “ecology”: it is derived from the Greek oikos and logos. What Cooper and Thurston articulate in The Deer Yard is a sense of being at home: they “come home to nature and the place takes on a wholeness, a unity that is entire” (Bate 1991, 103). Borrowing Robert Frost’s insight into the nature of poetry as expressed in “The Figure a Poem Makes,” the figure The Deer Yard poems make is “a momentary stay against confusion” (1964, vi). The whole winter cycle begins in delight in the objects of the natural world and ends in wisdom: the longing for home is the longing for nature, of which homo sapiens is an inextricable part alongside other nonhuman species. NOTES 1. A propos the notion that it is bios (life), and not homo sapiens, that is the measure of all things, Garrard writes: “The notion of ecocentrism has proceeded from, and fed back into, related systems derived from Eastern religions, such as Taoism and Buddhism, from heterodox figures in Christianity such as St Francis of Assissi (1881–1286) and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), and from modern reconstructions of American Indian, pre–Christian Wiccan, shamanistic and other ‘primal’ religions” (2012, 25). 2. Let us have a look at excerpts from two of the English translations of “Deer Park”: The low rays of the sun Slip through the dark forest, And gleam again on the shadowy moss. (tr. Rexroth) (Weinberger and Paz 1987, 22) *** Entering these deep woods, late sun— light ablaze on green moss, rising. (tr. Hinton) (Hinton 2005, 62) 3. The same ecopoetic consciousness is at work in Canto 81 by Ezra Pound: “Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down. / Learn of the green world what can be thy place / In scaled invention or true artistry” (81/541), sings the poet, proclaiming nature as the ultimate source of wisdom and serenity, virtue and humility, technology and art.


Leonor M. Martínez Serrano

REFERENCES Bate, Jonathan. 1991. Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition. London and New York: Routledge. ——— . 2000. The Song of the Earth. London: Picador. Bringhurst, Robert. 2018. “The Mind of the Wild.” In Learning to Die. Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis, edited by Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky, 7–39. Saskatchewan: Regina University Press. Buell, Lawrence. 2001. Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Cooper, Allan, and Thurston, Harry. 2013. The Deer Yard: A Winter Cycle. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau Press. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 2003. Nature and Selected Essays. London: Penguin Classics. Frost, Robert. 1964. Complete Poems of Robert Frost. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Garrard, Greg. 2012. Ecocriticism. London and New York: Routledge. Harrison, Robert Ponge. 1992. Forests: The Shadow of Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Heidegger, Martin. 1993. Basic Writings, edited by D. F. Krell. London and New York: Routledge. Hinton, David. 2005. Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China. New York: New Directions. Leopold, Aldo. 1968. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Macfarlene, Robert. 2008. Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination. London: Granta Books. Pound, Ezra. 1995. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions. Rigby, Kate. 2016. “Earth’s Poesy: Romantic Poetics’ Natural Philosophy, and Biosemiotics.” In Handbook of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology, edited by Hubert Zapft, 45–64. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. Rousseau, Jean Jacques. 1979. Reveries of the Solitary Walker, translated by Peter France. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Rueckert, William. 1996. “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism.” In The Ecocriticism Reader. Landmarks in Literary Ecology, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, 105–23. Athens: University of Georgia Press Naess, Arne. 1995. “The Deep Ecological Movement.” In Deep Ecology for the Twenty–First Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism, edited by G. Sessions, 64–84. Boston, MA: Shambhala. Snyder, Gary. 2000. “Language Goes Two Ways.” In The Green Studies Reader: From Romanticism to Ecocriticism, edited by Laurence Coupe, 127–31. London and New York: Routledge. Stevens, Wallace. 1984. Collected Poems. London: Faber and Faber. Soper, Kate. 1995. What Is Nature? Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Thoreau, Henry David. 1986. Walden and Civil Disobedience. London: Penguin Books. Unamuno, Miguel de. 1974. Selected Works of Miguel de Unamuno. Volume 5: The Agony of Christianity and Essays on Faith, translated by Anthony Kerrigan, Bollingen Series, LXXXV. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Wang, Phoebe. 2014. “Calling through the Cold: Allan Cooper and Harry Thurston’s The Deer Yard.” Arc Poetry. Accessed January 2, 2019. http://arcpoetry.ca/2014/08/07/callingthrough-the-cold-allan-cooper-and-harry-thurstons-the-deer-yard/. Ward, Jean Elizabeth. 2007. Wang Wei Remembered. Lulu Online Bookstore. Weinberger, Eliot, and Paz, Octavio. 1987. Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem Is Translated. Mt. Kisco, New York: Moyer Bell Limited, White, Lynn. 1996. “Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.” In The Ecocriticism Reader. Landmarks in Literary Ecology, edited by C. Glotfelty and H. Fromm, 3–14. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Chapter Ten

Wonders and Threats of Symbiotic Relationships in the Anthropocene Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy Patrycja Austin

Amitav Ghosh begins his book-length essay The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016) with the uncomfortable moment when we discover that what we took for inanimate suddenly comes to life, like when a pattern on a carpet turns out to be a snake. The pattern stands for what has until recently been assumed to be orderly, classified, and therefore tamed and under control—the gradualist vision of nature as moving forward by means of predictable processes. Today it is difficult not to notice that the snake is very much alive and real even if, with the advance of statistics and other means to organize and categorize natural phenomena, we have lost “instinctive awareness of the earth’s unpredictability” (Ghosh 2016, 34). Our encounter with it can be described using Freudian uncanny as this word best grasps the sense of the strangeness of the extreme phenomena happening on the planet today. It renders them not merely as unknown or alien; “their uncanniness lies precisely in the fact that in these encounters we recognize something we had turned away from: that is the presence and proximity of non–human interlocutors” (Ghosh 2016, 40). Timothy Morton in his essay “The Ecological Thought” links the ecological uncanny with the recognition of our repressed implication in the natural world (2010, 52). That is, not only are we surrounded by the more-thanhuman world but, what seems more difficult to accept—we have always been an intrinsic part of it. In Being Ecological (2018) Morton goes one step further; he defines the word uncanny as “familiar and strange at the same time” (2008, 177) pointing that the strangeness is already inside us—the 133


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hosts in a symbiotic relationship with other lifeforms. This symbiosis “is made up of all kinds of uneasy relationships, where beings aren’t in total lockstep with one another” (Morton 2018, 183). The question arises: what implications become visible if we understand the entanglement of all lifeforms? Heather Swanson et al. (2007, 2) point to monstrosity as a useful metaphor at the time of massive transformations in the Anthropocene. To begin with, thinking with monsters works against the conceit of the Individual. Like the mythical chimeras, monsters underline symbiotic “enfolding of bodies within bodies” and dethrone the anthropos from its central position. It also points out “the monstrosity of Modern man” (Swanson et al. 2007, 2), who has been capable of changing the climate of the planet and damaging entire ecosystems. Monsters are thus both “the wonders of symbiosis and the threats of ecological disruption” (2007, 2). Monsters are also uncanny in that, since Enlightenment Europe, they have been banished and identified as irrational and archaic (Swanson et al. 2007, 5) in the human attempts at ordering the world. The social and political landscape was perceived as “a space filled with autonomous entities and separable kinds, ones that could be easily aligned with capitalist fantasies of endless growth from alienated labour” (2007, 6)—a worldview which has proven to be far more monstrous in its effects than the category-crossing lifeforms that were being banished. Thus, exactly one hundred years after the publication of Freud’s essay, the word uncanny more than ever responds to the growing uncertainties in the world which has become unrecognizable in this Freudian sense. Published in 2014 as three separate novels: Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance, The Southern Reach Trilogy 1 responds to the growing uncertainties in the world which in the Anthropocene began to be perceived as ecologically uncanny. Representing The New Weird Fiction genre, the novels combine horror and mystery but, instead of offering didacticism that fiction dealing with ecological crises often does, they question the sense of the normal and place both the protagonists and readers in the fictional world of uncertainties. However, the uncanny elements, rather than being supernatural and fantastical and so removed from our world, are in fact drawn from biology and thus embedded in our reality. Through careful choice of the described elements of the flora and fauna, the author points to symbiotic relations, agency and creativity of the more–than–human nature and by elucidating our entanglement with one another suggests affirmative and ethical ways of living and dying. The idea for the novels germinated out of Vandermeer’s experiences in Southern Florida, especially the 2010 BP Gulf Oil Spill. This is how he later described it: “a dark, horrible spiral through my mind. (. . .) After the oil spill, the spiral continued because I knew that at the microscopic level the oil was still infiltrating and contaminating the environment. That just because

Wonders and Threats of Symbiotic Relationships in the Anthropocene


you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting you or the places you love” (VanderMeer 2015, n.p.) The oil slick brings to mind the hyperobject looming large in the novel—the Anthropocene, an epoch in which human activity has impacted the world to such extent that it is leaving traces in the geological formations and is altering the climate of the planet. Timothy Morton describes hyperobjects as “entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place. They do not allow an easy recognition and understanding” (2013, 50). Not only do they defeat our understanding but, especially in case of the phenomena happening today, they are also uncanny: “Isn’t it the case, that the effect delivered to us in the rain, the weird cyclone, the oil slick is something uncanny?” (2013, 50). The novels belong to the new Weird genre which has evolved in the early 2000s, at around the same time the term Anthropocene became popularized. 2 It is a symbiotic relationship between science fiction, fantasy and horror which mirrors its thematic interest in “hybridity, involution, attachment, assemblage, gathering, and entanglement” (Robertson 2018, 30). In his 2004 essay VanderMeer finds such “cross-pollination” to be more and more “an element of the best fiction” (qtd. in Robertson 2018, 24). 3 It portrays the entanglements of its protagonists in their material conditions (Robertson 2018, 13), that is the Anthropocene. Even though Benjamin J. Robertson argues that VanderMeer’s worlds are “irreducible to and nondeducible from the reader’s world” and thus do not allegorize or fictionalize the Anthropocene” (2018, 15), they only consider the material conditions of the time, the concerns about human impact on the environment and the unpredictable consequences, like the oil slick, form the unspoken background to the story that unfolds. The trilogy tells the story of a mysterious event off the coast in Florida thirty-one years back that formed Area X. A part of the land, a fishing village, along with a lighthouse and surrounding wilderness, disappeared behind an invisible, seemingly impenetrable border. The official version for the closing off of the place was an environmental catastrophe resulting from experimental military research. By now, in the popular consciousness, it has become “a dark fairy tale, something they did not want to think about too closely” (VanderMeer 2014, 62). A secret governmental institution—Southern Reach—has been set up with the sole intention to investigate the mystery, understand the nature of the Area and stall its progress further inland. It sends subsequent expeditions to explore the place. The story focuses on the twelfth expedition which includes a biologist who specializes in transitional environments, a geologist, psychologist, and anthropologist. They initially find Area X to be a pristine wilderness, a rich ecosystem with little trace of human interference. The biologist observes: “The air was so clean, so fresh, while the world back beyond the border was what it had always been during the


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modern era: dirty, tired, imperfect, winding down, at war with itself. Back there, I had always felt as if my work amounted to a futile attempt to save us from who we were” (VanderMeer 2014, 20) Soon, a sense of unease sets in a sense that the natural world has sentience. It becomes more pronounced as the women enter a tunnel in the ground with a winding staircase the walls of which are covered with letters made of organic matter. It is the work of the Crawler, a former lighthouse keeper who has undergone a thorough transformation and is now a monstrous figure in the thrall of Area X intelligence. Being trained scientists, the encounter with the Crawler throws the women off balance. The biologist writes: “We have not been trained to encounter what appeared to be uncanny” (VanderMeer 2014, 20), there is a limit to thinking about even a small piece of something monumental. You still see the shadow of the whole rearing up behind you, and you become lost in your thoughts in part from the panic, realizing the size of the imagined leviathan (VanderMeer 2014, 61, emphasis original). The ineffability of The Crawler resembles the immensity of Area X itself. Ghost Bird, the clone of the biologist, “had rejected . . . the idea that somehow Area X was only concentrated here, in this cramped space, on these stairs. . . . Area X was all around them; it was contained in no place or figure. It was the dysfunction in the sky, it was the plant Control had spoken of. It was the heavens and earth. It could interrogate you from any position or no position at all, and you might not even recognize its form as a form of questioning” (VanderMeer 2014, 552). Both Area X and the Crawler become Anthropocene hyperobjects—gigantic entities massively distributed in time and space, in such a way that “we can only see tiny slices of them at a time” (Morton 2018, n.p.). There is also a spaciotemporal analogy between Area X and the Anthropocene as “the border is advancing. For now, slowly, a little bit more every year. In ways you wouldn’t expect” (VanderMeer 2014, 87) “and now so fast. Too fast” (VanderMeer 2014, 501). In Bruno Latour’s words, we “are not equipped with the mental and emotional repertoire to deal with such a vast scale of events,” we “have difficulty submitting to such a rapid acceleration for which, in addition [we] are supposed to feel responsible” (qtd in Robertson 2018, 20). The Anthropocene makes visible human involvement with its environment by the extraction of natural resources and by consuming goods derived from these resources. Just before the forming of the border, the lightkeeper has what I would call an anthropo-dream in which “the moon is dying and oceans are “filled with graveyards of trash and every pollutant that had ever been loosed against the natural world. Wars for scant resources had left entire countries nothing but deserts of death and suffering” (VanderMeer 2014, 431). The dream becomes real as shortly he finds “the beach was strewn with plastic and garbage and tarred bits of metal, barrels and culverts clotted with seaweed barnacles” (VanderMeer 2014, 581). Even outside of the border of Area X “The flow of the river had been faster back in the day, but the runoff

Wonders and Threats of Symbiotic Relationships in the Anthropocene


from agribusiness had generated silt that slowed it, stilled it, and changed what lived in it and where. Hidden by the darkness of the opposite shore lay paper mills and the ruins of earlier factories, still polluting the groundwater. All of it coursing into seas evermore acidic” (VanderMeer 2014, 183). While prior to the event human activity causes damage to the natural world, Area X is working to reverse it. The Crawler sets a reverse process in motion to the human devastation of the natural environments. He scans, copies and then initiates a transmutation of the members of the expeditions. They become elements of the landscape flora and fauna with some indications of their former human form: a dolphin with human eyes, an owl, a moaning creature in the marshes, or human-shaped vines. All other traces of human habitation are likewise erased, the remains of the fishermen village are disintegrating at an accelerated speed. This is a new approach to conceptualizing the present moment in literature. While in most literary portrayals of the postapocalyptic future the human hero persists, Area X does not allow such a possibility. In David Wallace-Wells’s words, “It will outrun all of us” (2019, 13). In the novel, it is best exemplified by the plant that is brought to the Southern Reach from Area X by the former director. Despite numerous attempts at destroying it, “[t]he plant will not die. No extremes of temperature will affect it. Freeze it, it will thaw. Burn it, it will regenerate” (VanderMeer 2014, 508). I will argue, however, that Vandermeer’s vision is not just pessimistic, it is even perceived by the biologist as attractive: “The terrible thing (. . .) is that I can no longer say with conviction that this is a bad thing. Not when looking at the pristine nature of Area X and then the world beyond, which we have altered so much” (VanderMeer 2014, 127). She used to be a radical environmentalist, then a scholar researching tidal pools in remote locations “farthest extremity from civilization” (2014, 70) and, eventually, worked on the creation of natural products that would decompose plastics and other nonbiodegradable man–made materials. Since childhood, she has opted for the excitements of the natural world she observed closely rather than “whatever banal, messy things people in the human world usually did” (VanderMeer 2014, 30). As an adult, she does not feel comfortable in cities: “The dirt and grit of a city, the unending wakefulness of it, the crowdedness, the constant light obscuring the stars, the omnipresent gasoline fumes, the thousand ways it presaged our destruction” (2014, 103). She says: “Sustenance form me was tied to ecosystem and habitat, orgasm the sudden realization of the interconnectivity of living things” (2014, 72). In her observations of the natural world, the biologist learns that there are no individuals in ecosystems, which contrasts with Southern Reach’s policy that encourages individuality and separation of its members. During their training prior to the expedition, they are kept in separate rooms and, while in Area X, they keep their private journals which they are not supposed to share. The biologist notices, the individual journal entries left by members of


Patrycja Austin

previous expeditions into Area X “might tell stories of heroism or cowardice, of good decisions or bad decisions, but ultimately they spoke to a kind of inevitability” (VanderMeer 2014, 105). Emphasis on individuals is thus not an answer in the time of global crisis even if the individual was the main hero of twentieth-century political, scientific, economic, biological, or artistic narrative: “Imagine individuals and you can conjure the world” (Gilbert 2017, 71). However, our autonomy may have been the imagined thing. As the biologist, Scott Gilbert asserts: “we have never been individuals” (2017, 71) and the “we” in his meaning refers to all organisms, not just humans. This view has vast implications for our understanding of the evolution of life on earth which has itself been evolving along with the improvement of technology. At the beginning of biological classification, there were only animals and plants, as these were the categories that could be easily perceived as different and separate. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, microbes were recognized and added as the third category. Still, the view of organisms as individuals congealed in the early twentieth century, along with the development of modern synthesis in biology—a combination of Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection with Gregor Mendel’s genetical inheritance mechanisms—the passing of the desirable traits to the future generations (Swanson et al. 2017, 23). Each organism evolved in its void, unaffected by other species. Then, with the technological development, the classification was getting more encompassing and included protists, fungi, and monera. In 1990, DNA research allowed Woese to draft a new phylogenetic tree that portrayed three domains of life: the Archaea. The Bacteria and the Eucarya and in this way decentered plants, animals, (including humans) and fungi and spotlighted microbes as a significant part of earth’s diversity. Even more recently, the very idea of the tree of life has been questioned (e.g., by Eugene Koonin) and replaced with the nonhierarchical “web of life.” The genetics revolution proved that Darwinian and Mendelian modern synthesis describes but a small part of life: “Most of the world’s living things—particularly its microbes—are busy engaging in horizontal gene transfer, the lateral movement of genetic traits, even among very distantly related organisms from different domains. (. . .) For bacteria, at least, such transfers are not the stuff of science fiction but of everyday evolution” (McFall-Ngai 2017, 55, emphasis mine). Vertical gene transfer has been replaced with postmodern synthesis—the full picture is more complex and “individuals aren’t particularly individual at all. The organisms in developmental biology, along with Darwin’s species, all turn out to be complex assemblages, typically made up of more cells of others than of their own” (2017, 55). It stresses thus the horizontal cross-species interaction and how indispensable microbes are for the health and evolution of most plants and animals, including humans.

Wonders and Threats of Symbiotic Relationships in the Anthropocene


These ideas, in turn, formed horizontal interdisciplinary alliances and influenced the evolution of “new practices of research, inquiry, and storytelling, where natures and cultures, microorganisms and worlds, bodies and environments, are driven not by individuals but by symbiotic relationships all the way down” (Swanson et al. 2017, 23). These include, Donna Haraway’sworlding (theorizing and storytelling rooted in the historical materialities of meetings between humans and nonhumans), and sym-poiesis (making-with), Scott Gilbert’s holobiont (entire being, contingent symbiotic assemblages wherein all the players are symbionts to each other and other holobionts) (explained by Haraway 2017, 26), and holoent—to encompass both the biotic and abiotic in sympoietic patterning (2017, 26). In other words, “new kinds of cells, tissues, organs, and species evolve primarily through the long-lasting intimacy of strangers” (2017, 26). Donna Haraway also describes a theory of ecological relationality which notices and takes seriously organisms’ affect, entanglement, and in which creativity and curiosity are ascribed to all beings, not only human. Timothy Morton suggests another metaphor, of the mesh. Drawing from the genomics revolution in biology, McFall-Ngai has researched the organism that may be perceived as the representative model for postmodern synthesis—the bobtailed squid. It cannot survive the dangers of its habitat without developing a symbiotic relationship with Vibriofischeri bacteria. Together, the squid and the bacteria develop a light organ that tricks the predators into thinking that the squid is only a reflection of the moonlight in the water. The presence of the bacteria does not simply serve as camouflage, it also changes the squid’s gene expression—it develops, then, not just by genetic gene transfer but through relations with microbes (McFall–Ngai 2017, 61). Since this discovery in the late 1980s, it has turned out that such relations with bacteria are rather a norm and not a curiosity. Human bodies contain at least as many nonhuman cells as human ones and they significantly influence our biology. McFall Ngai proposes the term “nested ecosystems” to explain the way our bodies are formed in cross-species interaction. Her focus on microbes proves the porosity of multicellular organisms including humans and their inability to survive on their own. “We are more microbe than human” (McFall-Ngai 2017, 52). This knowledge disrupts all definitions of animal individuality ranging from anatomical through genetic, developmental, immune, physiological and evolutionary individuality. 4 “It appears that there is no individuality in the classical biological sense” (Gilbert 2017, 83). The person who developed symbiosis as a field of study was Lynn Margulis. Before her work, there were recognized a few instances of symbiosis such as “those that made up lichens and algae that lived inside sea anemones” (McFall-Ngai 2017, 60). By focusing on microbes Margulis proved that the prevailing model of biological life was not a competition as was widely


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believed but symbiosis, especially endosymbiosis when an organism lives within the body or cells of another organism forming a mutualistic relationship with the host body or cell. In The Southern Reach Trilogy, symbiosis features on many levels and in various forms. Before she enters Area X, the biologist undergoes an intensive refresher course on fungi and lichen—a composite organism that arises from the symbiotic relationship between algae or bacteria and fungi. She also recollects her research grant to study tidal pools at Rock Bay where she found rare mussels that live “in a symbiotic relationship with a fish called gartner. . . . Several species of marine snails and sea anemones lurked there too, and a tough little squid I nicknamed Saint Pugnacious . . . because the danger music of its white-flashing luminescence made its mantle look like a pope’s hat” (VanderMeer 2014, 71) The image of the fluorescent squid returns within the borders of Area X when the women enter the tunnel, a “topographical anomaly” the biologist calls the tower where she finds a message scrawled on the walls. The words are made up of symbiotic fruiting bodies of an unknown species of fungi or another eukaryotic organism forming a miniature ecosystem within which lived translucent creatures shaped like tiny hands (VanderMeer 2014, 17). “The colours of the words shifted in a rippling effect, like the strobing of a squid (2014, 32). The biologist observes: We were exploring an organism that might contain a mysterious second organism, which was itself using yet other organisms to write words on the wall. She describes the tower/tunnel thus in terms of endosymbiosis, and when, by accident, she leans too close to see the bodies forming the letters and a nodule bursts open, some of the spores enter through her nose, she becomes colonized by the bacteria and almost immediately begins to change. Her senses sharpen, and she gets immune to the psychologists’ hypnotic suggestions. With time, the changes become more pronounced, and she begins to give off fluorescent light and starts to look “like nothing human but something free and floating” (VanderMeer 2014, 84) reminiscent of a water animal, like a squid. She feels under her skin the “sensation like slow squirming . . . of tiny animals” (2014, 97). She also gets more attuned to her surroundings, and her perception changes. The stone wall of the tunnel “suddenly had a flashy aspect to them, as if we traveled inside the gullet of a beast,” “the tower was breathing. The tower breathed, and the walls when I went to touch them carried an echo of a heartbeat . . . and they were not made of stone but of living tissue. The tower was a living creature of some sort. We were descending into an organism” (VanderMeer 2014, 97). Stones, as Jeffrey Cohen writes, “frequently trouble the divide between that which lives, breathes and reproduces and that which is supposed to be too insensate to exhibit such liveliness” (qtd. in Opperman 2014, 34). As the boundary between animate and inanimate is broken in the biologist’s perception, the conception of mind and matter also changes.

Wonders and Threats of Symbiotic Relationships in the Anthropocene


As Serpil Oppermann explains, the understanding of physical reality as possessing internal experience, creativity, and vitality was suggested in the late twentieth century by ecological postmodernists including David Ray Griffin, Charles Hartshorne and Charlene Spretnak, Brian Swimme, or Charles Birch. Their most important volume was The Reenchantment of Science (SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought) published in 1988. It discussed the transition from mechanistic to organismic postmodern science (but not the relativistic postmodernism of Heidegger, Derrida, or Wittgenstein). They called for the reenchantment of science by replacing the reductive, dualistic view of the world with a relational ontology. The ecological crisis needs new models of the relationship between humans and the more-than-human world where the latter is allowed experience, intrinsic value, internal purpose, and internal relations” (Griffin qtd in Oppermann 2014, 22). Just as the postmodern synthesis in biology first deconstructs and then disassembles the tree of life proving it to be an inadequate pictorial image of the real nonhierarchical relations, “postmodernism today is intensely involved in challenging the old conceptualizations of nature, matter, reality, and discourse within a hierarchy of relations” (Oppermann 2014, 25). The reenchantment of nature means thus that humans and the rest of the natural world are not separate and that subjectivity is not the property of humans alone while the lifeless rest can be exploited and capitalized for their purposes. As the biologist’s transmutation progresses, she notices the aliveness of matter and her interconnectivity with it: “The wind was like something alive; it entered every pore of me. Even the darkness seemed more alive” (VanderMeer 2014, 50). The ideas that both animate and inanimate matter possesses certain levels of internal experience and may provoke specific responses were further elaborated by new materialists like Jane Bennett, Karen Barad, Vicky Kirby, and Stacy Alaimo. They define matter as “unpredictable, self–creative, generative, active, and expressive” (Oppermann 2014, 24–25). They highlight human-nonhuman relationality and entanglement, the environment is present inside human bodies, which means we are inextricably connected with other life forms (Bennett 2010, 116). Material ecocriticism draws from the ideas of ecological postmodernism and new materialism and focuses on matter’s intentional communicability and expression which is no longer reserved for humans. Whether animate or inanimate, matter produces meaning, which can be seen as text, or “storied matter” (Oppermann 2014, 29). Animate earth, including animals, plants, rivers, natural phenomena, rocks, soil, stars, is expressive (Swimme qtd in Oppermann 2014, 30) and humans remain in ongoing communication with it. Language and communication are reformulated as “vitality, autonomy, agency and other signs that designate an expressive dimension” (Oppermann 2014, 30) rather than a linguistic exchange in the human understanding. In


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this approach, even stone can be expressive: “Stone moves. Stone desires. Stone creates: architectures, novelties, art” (Cohen qtd in Oppermann 2014, 32). The words written on the wall of the tunnel draw attention to their physical aspect rather than literal meaning, “to follow the meaning of words was a trail of deception” (VanderMeer 2014, 31). The description focuses on the sensual experience: the smell and appearance of the script, and later their music. The biologist is tempted to touch it. The words are made of organic matter among which there lived tiny hand-shaped creatures. The deeper into the tunnel, the words were fresher “the words seemed more active, the colours brighter, the strobing more intense” (2014, 34). They fascinate the biologist who has found linguistic communication inadequate. “I never could express myself well to him. . . . And yet, I was nothing but expression in other ways” (VanderMeer 2014, 34). Observation is more important to her than interaction (2014, 73) and rather than communicating she merges with landscape: “places could impress themselves upon me, and I could become art of them with ease” (VanderMeer 2014, 73). Verbal communication is failing in other ways in the novel. The linguist is the first member of the twelfth expedition to drop out, even before she enters Area X. The gap between words and meaning can be found in the description of thistles in a journal written by a member of a former expedition. The journal, page after page, focuses solely on the qualities of the plant which has an unnerving effect on the biologist: “with each new depiction of a thistle, a shiver worked deeper and deeper into my spine” (2014, 75). Here the descriptions serve an escapist role, the author is repressing the horror of Area X. Language can also be manipulative. All expedition members undergo conditioning to be responsive to hypnotic suggestions. The biologist becomes immune to them after breathing in the spores of the organic words in the tunnel. She says they “pointed to a truthful seeing” (VanderMeer 2014, 60 original emphasis). The lighthouse keeper was once a preacher but resigned because during his sermons “he would be preaching one thing and thinking another” (2014, 400), “he was enjoying the cadence of the sentences he spoke more than the meaning” (2014, 423). This explains the meaninglessness of the phrases on the wall in the tunnel in his reincarnation as the Crawler which resemble his old sermons. Their purpose lies somewhere else, they are part of the process of the expansion and proliferation of Area X, which indicates its agency, purpose, and creativity. The highest expression of this creativity in the novel is exemplified by mimicry, another form of symbiotic relationship. In most basic terms, mimicry in biology is defined “the close external resemblance of an animal or plant (or part of one) to another animal, plant, or inanimate object” (NODE qtd in Maran 2017, 7). It can be used defensively as when the biologists observes: “the natural world around me had become a kind of camouflage” (VanderM-

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eer 2014, 64), a counter-shading (2014, 381)—Area X is disguising its true nature from the human visitors. Even more, mimicry displays the intelligence of the mimic. The Crawler is “a complex, unique, intricate, awe-inspiring, dangerous organism, (. . .) some kind of living creature, one that practiced mimicry using my own thoughts” (VanderMeer 2014, 118). Area X can manipulate the genome, works miracles of mimicry and biology”, it knows wat to do with molecules and membranes, can peer through things, can surveil, can withdraw. (. . .) To it, a smartphone, say, is as basic as flint arrowhead, (. . .) it’s operating off of such refined and intricate senses that the tools we’ve bound ourselves with, the ways we record the universe, are probably evidence of our own primitive nature. Perhaps it doesn’t even think that we have consciousness or free will—not in the ways it measures such things (2014, 414).

This description elucidates the intelligence of nature that we are only slowly beginning to grasp “because we’re these incredibly blunt instruments” (VanderMeer 2014, 414). The biologist is prepared for the encounter because of her previous experience, especially the encounter with a glowing starfish which causes a sense of total dislocation—“the longer I stared at it, the less comprehensible the creature became. The more it became something alien to me, the more I had a sense that I knew nothing at all—about nature, about ecosystems. There was something about my mood and its dark glow that eclipsed sense, that made me see this creature, which had indeed been assigned a place in the taxonomy—cataloged, studied, and described—irreducible down to any of that. . . . I knew less than nothing about myself as well, whether that was a lie or the truth” (VanderMeer 2014, 116). Afterward, the dislocation of the encounter becomes for her a point of reference, a compass (2014, 381). Timo Maran in his 2017 book-length study of mimicry as a semiotic phenomenon, argues that, historically, mimicry as a concept derives from far outside biology and belongs to the concept family of mimesis, mime, imitation, etc. Mimicry also has a relation to artistic creativity—it was seen by the Ancient Greek philosophers as the root of creation (poetry, music, dance, fine art.). With time, it lost its dynamic, performative aspects and became associated with mechanic copying and reproduction, a device for creating resemblance (Maran 2017, 7). The tunnel is the place where the members of the expedition are scanned, and later there reemerge their copies. The biologist who returns back to the world from outside the border is, in fact, a copy of the biologist, Ghost Bird, whose identity is complete and, despite the resemblance to the biologist, separate from her. The biologist, in turn, remains in Area X and, like other humans who have entered the Area, she becomes assimilated by its ecosystem. While others turn into known species of animals or plants, her transformation goes beyond mere imitation and she


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turns into a fantastic creature. On her return to Area X, Ghost Bird watches the biologist get near: The hillside come alive and sliding down the ruined lighthouse, at a steady pace like a lava (. . .). The mountain that was the biologist came up almost to the windowsill. (. . .) The suggestion, far to the east, already overshooting the lighthouse, of a vast curve and curl of the mouth, and the flanks carved by dark ridges like a whale’s, and the dried seaweed, the kelp, that clung there, and the overwhelming ocean smell that came with it. The green-and-white stars of barnacles on its back in the hundreds of miniature craters, of tidal pools from time spent motionless in deep water, time lost inside that enormous brain. It had many, many glowing eyes that were also like flowers or sea anemones spread open, the blossoming of many eyes—normal, parietal, and simple—all across its body, a living constellation ripped from the night sky . . . Nothing monstrous existed here—only beauty, only the glory of good design, of intricate planning, from the lungs that allowed this creature to live on land or at sea, to the huge gill slits hinted at along the sides, shut tightly now, but which would open to breathe deeply of seawater when the biologist once again headed for the ocean. . . . An animal, an organism that had never existed before . . . (VanderMeer 2014, 493–94).

She is made up of existing forms: a mountain, a sea animal, craters, pools, and so forth. Yet, this new splendid configuration is not monstrous but arouses wonder, it suggests nature’s creativity, but also intelligence and intentionality—it has selected the biologist as a person who has displayed the biggest understanding of its processes, a curiosity, openness, and empathy. Her old traits can be identified: the many eyes refer to her observation skills, the ability to live on land and in the water—her adaptation abilities, she becomes the hybrid of the symbiotic organisms that she admired. Even though the old form of the biologist no longer exists, the transformation is not synonymous with dying. Death “was not the same thing here as across the border” (VanderMeer 2014, 96). Perhaps death should be perceived not as the culmination of life in the physical sense but the end of a certain concept of human as exceptional and separated from the rest of the universe. Once the tree of life has been deconstructed, and the Enlightenment European narrative of human exceptionalism cannot be recycled anymore, we need new cosmologies and ontologies that respond to the growing awareness of the more-than-human world and our entanglement with it that produces new ethics and different behavioral patterns. As Mark Jackson asserts: If a rock is mute matter and devoid of life, then we may be legitimized in breaking it apart violently to extract some value within it. If, however, the rock is recognized as part of a wider sign system, and perhaps, then, of a system of relations that constitutes mind or life in its dynamics of action, then action toward the rock and its relations may be legitimized quite differently. Thus, the ethical and political work in the world with that rock’s interrelationship (or

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lake interrelationship, or river interrelationship, or mountain interrelationship, or moon interrelationship or light interrelationship etc.) as cosmological, totemic, or ecological agency will entail different causes, responsibilities, and outcomes (2018, 54).

The snake and the stone are alive, and if we step closer and observe, we might be able to interpret their stories and better appreciate our ongoing entanglement with them. NOTES 1. All citations from the novels come from the joint 2014 edition entitled Area X. The Southern Reach Trilogy. 2. John Harrison suggested the term The New Weird in 2003, while Paul Crutzen popularized the term The Anthropocene in 2000. 3. More on The New Weird genre in Robertson 2018, 21–31. 4. To learn more, see Scott F. Gilbert (74).

REFERENCES Bennett, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Cohen, Jeffrey. 2010. “Stories of Stone.” Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies 1 nos. 1–2: 56–63. Ghosh, Amitav. 2016. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. New Delhi: Penguin Books. Haraway, Donna. 2017. “Symbiogenesis, Sympoiesis, and Art Activisms for Staying with the Trouble.” In Arts of living on a Damaged Planet, edited by Heather Swanson, Anna Tsing, Bubandt Nils, and Elaine Gan, 25–50. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Gilbert, Scott, F. 2017. “Holobiont by birth. Multilineage individuals as the concretion of cooperative processes.” In Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, edited by Heather Swanson, Anna Tsing, Bubandt Nils, and Elaine Gan, 73–89. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Griffin, David Ray, ed. 1988. The Reenchantment of Science: Postmodern Proposals. (SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought). Edited by David Ray Griffin. Albany: State University of New York Press. Jackson, Mark. 2018. Coloniality, Ontology, and the Question of the Posthuman. London and New York: Routledge. Latour, Bruno. 2014. “Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene.” New Literary History 45, no. 1: 1–18. Maran, Timo. 2017. Mimicry and Meaning: Structure and Semiosis of Biological Mimicry. Berlin: Springer. McFall-Ngai, Margaret. 2017. “Noticing Microbial Worlds. The Postmodern Synthesis in Biology.” In Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, edited by Heather Swanson, Anna Tsing, Bubandt Nils, and Elaine Gan, 51–69. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Morton, Timothy. 2018. Being Ecological. London: Penguin Books. ———. Hyperobjects. 2013. Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ———. The Ecological Thought. 2010. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. “The Mesh.” 2011. In Environmental Criticism for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Stephanie LeMeneger, Teresa Shewry, and Ken Hiltner, 19–30. London: Routledge.


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Oppermann, Serpil. 2014. “From Ecological Postmodernism to Material Ecocriticism. Creative Materiality and Narrative Agency.” In Material Ecocriticism, edited by Serenella Iovino and Serpil Opperman, 21–36. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Pearsal, Jude, ed. 2001. The New Oxford dictionary of English (NODE). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Robertson, Benjamin, J. 2018. None of This Is Normal: The Fiction of Jeff VanderMeer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Swanson, Heather, Anna Tsing, Bubandt Nils, and Gan Elaine. 2017. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Swimme Brian Thomas. 1988. “The Cosmic Creation Story.” In The Reenchantment of Science: Postmodern Proposals, edited by David Ray Griffin, 47–56. Albany: State University of New York Press. VanderMeer, Jeff. 2014. Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ———. 2015. “From Annihilation to Acceptance: A Writer’s Surreal Journey.” The Atlantic. Last modified January 28. https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2015/01/fromannihilation-to-acceptance-a-writers-surreal-journey/384884/. Wallace-Wells, David. 2019. The Uninhabitable Earth. Life after Warming. New York: Tim Duggan Books.

Part III

The Age of Dystopia Nature against Culture in Contemporary Literature and Film

Chapter Eleven

Demonizing Nature Ecocriticism and Popular Fantasy Peter Melville

INTRODUCTION This chapter examines how models of heroism in popular epic fantasy can be evaluated and understood from an ecocritical perspective. What are the environments in which fantasy heroism expresses itself? How is such heroism constructed in relation to the natural world? I have chosen Peter V. Brett’s five-part Demon Cycle (2008–2017) as the primary object of analysis because in addition to offering an example of commercially successful mainstream fantasy, the series engages the relation between humanity and its environment in a rather conspicuous manner. The series takes place predominantly in a secondary-world region called Thesa, which by day resembles the idealized preindustrial settings of other similarly medieval-focused fantasy texts. Supported by artisan and merchant guilds and overtaxed hamlets, Thesa’s duke-controlled city-states participate in a more or less reciprocal system of trade based on each city’s principal extraction industry, including metal mining, grain farming, fishing, and forestry. By night, however, Thesa becomes a singularly terrifying place, particularly for those who venture beyond the boundaries of the built environment where they risk attack by nocturnal demons that rise from the earth’s core to embody elemental aspects of the natural world: rock demons terrorize mountain regions; wood demons haunt forests; wind demons ride the night sky; and so on. Although the Demon Cycle’s diverse models of male and female heroism exemplify a range of cultural and social differences, its vision of heroism is ultimately defined by an individual’s ability to dominate the creatures and landscapes of 149


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Thesa’s nocturnal environment and to unify humanity under the common goal of suppressing nature’s unruly “demonic” forces. I contend that while the Demon Cycle ambitiously tackles issues of Orientalism and patriarchal gender roles within conventional medieval fantasy, it does so against the backdrop of a generally negative depiction of the natural environment. I nevertheless insist that the series’s final image of avenging nature (i.e., a “swarm” of demons that gathers to deliver its retribution on humanity) survives the Demon Cycle’s narratives of domination over nature as the “indivisible remainder” of the series’s heroic imaginary (Žižek 1996, 52). I argue, in other words, that the threat posed by this angry image of the return of nature’s repressed forces refuses to be neatly contained or eliminated by the text and instead reflects what Slavoj Žižek calls the “unaccountable ‘madness’ of the very founding gesture of idealization” (1996, 52)—in this case, the Demon Cycle’s ecologically unsustainable figuration of heroic humanity. In addition to locating the Demon Cycle’s antagonistic representation of humanity’s relation to the environment within a literary tradition of the fantastic dating as far back as the Old English epic poem Beowulf, which similarly casts nature (specifically the marshy wetlands of the “desolate fens” [Heaney 2000, 106]) as the monstrous foil to human heroism; this chapter also situates its ecological analysis of the Demon Cycle within the small but burgeoning field of ecocriticism within fantasy fiction studies. Much of this scholarship has focused on J. R. R. Tolkien’s canonical invention of MiddleEarth (see Baratta, Brawley, P. Curry, Dickerson and Evans, Elgin, Giblett, Morgan, and Ulstein), but earth-centered approaches to fantasy have progressed to include works by contemporary authors as diverse as David and Leigh Eddings (Raye), J. K. Rowling (Dawson), and Nnedi Okorafor (A. Curry). My goal is to survey and extend the ongoing critical task of evaluating what Gry Ulstein (2015) calls fantasy fiction’s “exploratory potential for ecocritical ideas”—including its capacity (due in large part to its “strong immersive aspect”) to cultivate its readers’ openness to “less anthropocentric view[s] of the world” (Ulstein 2015, 7). Even when fantasy texts like the Demon Cycle fail to realize this ecocritical potential, their human-centered representations of nature often contain the seeds of their own undoing— which is to say, trace elements that not only resist assimilation by the text’s authoritative vision of humanity’s superiority over the natural world, but persistently work to destabilize the integrity of that vision and its claim to legitimacy. One of the tasks of eco-fantasy criticism, then, is to remain vigilant in the search for such elements—images, for instance, of nature’s demonic irrepressibility that challenge the anthropocentric arrogance of certain instantiations of popular fantasy heroism.

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ECOCRITICISM AND FANTASY As an organized approach to literary studies, ecocriticism has expressed itself in a myriad of ways since it was first christened by William Rueckert in 1978, and has evolved and refined its focus through partnerships with other critical methodologies such as feminism, socialism, and postcolonial studies. Though broad in practice and application, ecocriticism generally follows a core set of assumptions, not least of which is the idea that any literary text bears “ecological implications” regarding “humanity’s relationship with nature, even texts that seem, at first glance, oblivious of the nonhuman world” (Slovic 2000, 160). Fantasy fiction is no exception to the rule. Its critics have more than once identified ecological crisis as an essential element of worldbuilding in fantasy narratives. Among the first steps in Brian Attebery’s (1992) well-known mock recipe for producing contemporary fantasy stories is to “[a]dd a problem, something more or less ecological, and a prophesy for solving it” (Attebery 1992, 10). For Katherine Buse (2013), fantasy’s impulse toward ecological restoration finds its origin in the genre’s most iconic and widely imitated text, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which “directly references environmental crisis” in paralleling the wounding of the land with the effects of the Industrial Revolution (Buse 2013, 271). Buse usefully observes that modern fantasy has developed since Tolkien “as a response to, or commentary on, eco-crisis” (2013, 271). If the most “structurally complete” fantasy entails what John Clute (1997) calls a process of “thinning” (which is to say, a “reduction of the healthy Land to a Parody of itself” [Clute 1997, n. p.]), then the hero’s constitutive function is to “discover the cause of the degradation of the land and identify his (or her) role in fixing it” (Buse 2013, 272). Ulstein is even more optimistic than Buse about fantasy’s long-standing engagement with environmental crisis, arguing that “fantasy fiction, more than any other literary genres, has an intrinsic exploratory potential for ecocritical ideas” (2015, 7). On this point, Ulstein defers to Ursula K. Le Guin’s claim that what fantasy does more successfully than realist fiction is to emphasize “the nonhuman as essential” (2007, 87). Realist fiction is “drawn toward anthropocentrism,” writes Le Guin, while fantasy is drawn “away from it” (2007, 87). It opens its readers’ imagination to “realms in which humanity is not lord and master, is not central, is not even important” (2007, 87). Ulstein surveys a series of critical positions that approximate Le Guin’s spirited celebration of fantasy’s openness to exploring ecocritical ideas, including Don D. Elgin’s assertion that “literature, particularly the fantasy novel, offers humanity a way to reintegrate itself into the natural world” (1985, 269); and Chris Brawley’s suggestion that by “making trees walk and animals talk, mythopoeic fantasy is perhaps the most subversive art there is” (2007, 23). While Ulstein shares these scholars’ enthusiasm, she wisely re-


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calls the cautionary words of Michael D. C. Drout who warns fantasists against “being cheerleaders rather than scholars” of fantasy fiction (2011, 18). Accordingly, though she upholds the notion that fantasy contains an “inherent capacity” for exploring ecocritical ideas, Ulstein does not deny similar capacities to other modes of fiction, nor is she unmindful of anthropocentric elements within fantasy texts that frustrate the genre’s ecocritical potential. For examples of the latter, Ulstein points to Tolkien’s elves who arguably manipulate nature “just as much as humans or orcs” and to Le Guin’s reading of the animal-shaped daemons of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy as mere extensions of human narcissism (Ulstein 2015, 15). If fantasy occasionally stumbles on its path toward ecological insight, then I suggest there is value in scrutinizing its missteps, its failures to realize its ecocritical potential. Not only does such an approach promote critical realism; it also accepts failure as an aspect of the genre’s capacity for reflecting eco-crisis in its representation of human and nonhuman environments. Fantasy’s ecological missteps document missed opportunities for alternative thinking, but they also potentially archive images or figures (such as the Demon Cycle’s swarm of avenging demons) that linger in stubborn opposition to a text’s anthropocentric imaginary. For two of the earliest and bestknown examples of such figures, we can turn briefly to the Old English epic poem Beowulf with its characterization of the creature Grendel and his vengeful mother as agents of a monstrous swampland wilderness patrolling the physical and cultural borders of the human community. Beowulf not only provides a convincing point of origin for nature’s mistreatment as an object of fantasy storytelling in English, but as environmental scholar Rod Giblett suggests, the moral associations it makes between certain ecological environments and the forces of evil continue to shape the way modern fantasy imagines and builds secondary worlds (2015, 132). MONSTROUS NATURE IN BEOWULF There are several parallels between Beowulf and Brett’s Demon Cycle, which Brett (2011) himself acknowledges in an informal blog post comparing the combat prowess of his protagonist, Arlen Bales, to that of the eponymous hero of Beowulf. Though it is hardly uncommon for a fantasy hero to mimic aspects of the latter, the affinities shared between Arlen and Beowulf are still worth pointing out. They each travel to secluded rural communities as celebrated warriors to engage in battle with a race of demons that threatens the community; they are both hailed as their community’s deliverer from evil; and both venture with companions to remote caverns in a final attempt to eliminate a source of great peril to humanity. There are important differences between them as well: Arlen’s heroic journey, unlike Beowulf’s, begins in

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early childhood rather than in media res; whereas Beowulf’s strength is perceived as superhuman, Arlen’s power is supernatural and in fact, links him inextricably to the demons he fights (causing him much self-doubt); and finally, unlike Beowulf, who is unmistakably the hero of his own tale, Arlen finds himself in close competition with another character, Ahmann Jardir, as the primary hero of the Demon Cycle. These similarities and differences reveal a chain of influence between Beowulf and Brett’s series, even as they reflect the historical distance between the former’s premodern emphasis on communal solidarity and the latter’s more modern focus on the diversity of human experience and the emergence of a complex and conflicted understanding of individual identity. That is not to say that Brett is uninterested in communal solidarity. To be sure, the most telling parallel between Beowulf and the Demon Cycle, from an ecological perspective, is their respective depictions of a human social order bound and sustained by a fear of the outside, which is to say, the environment beyond the community which is othered as mysterious, alien, and extremely dangerous to humanity. Giblett argues that this othering of nature in Beowulf reflects a widespread “pejorative Christian view of wetlands” that has been “largely responsible for the destruction of wetlands in the west for the past millennium” (2015, 132). This is a bold claim, to be sure, but Giblett’s research on the history and ecology of marshlands in the west characterizes the “representative landscape of modern European Christianity [as] a drained wetland, first made possible by wind-powered pumps, and later in the modern industrial age, by steam-powered dredger” (2015, 136). According to Giblett, the attack on western wetlands has occurred on at least two related fronts. First, since marshlands are generally “inimical” to cities, which require firmer soil for expansion and dryland agriculture, wetlands have been drained or canalized in support of urban development (2015, 136). Second, and more germane to Beowulf, the triumph of Christian ideas and beliefs over cultural groups that revered “the sacrality of swamps and marshes” (particularly in early England) involved “figuring and condemning wetlands as hell, as a place of monsters,” which in turn provided “the basis for later draining and ‘reclaiming’ them” (Giblett 2015, 136). Beowulf participates in this cultural denigration of wetlands by painting the mythical creatures who live within them with an unfriendly biblical brush. In addition to being “grim demon[s] / haunting the marshes,” Grendel and his mother are identified by the anonymous Beowulf poet as belonging to the “clan” of Cain, the infamous son of Adam and Eve who murders his brother Abel in the Book of Genesis (Heaney 2000, 102–3, 106). As members of this clan, Grendel and his mother are kin to a group of “banished monsters,” including “ogres and elves and evil phantoms,” who sprung forth from the curse the “Almighty” placed on Cain (2000, 105, 112, 110). Whereas Cain is sentenced to a life of wandering for his sins, Grendel’s mother is


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said to have been “forced down into fearful waters, / the cold depths, after Cain had killed / his father’s son” (Heaney 2000, 1260–2). Associating Grendel’s mother and her watery retreat with Old Testament acts of crime and punishment, the poem overtly renders the marshy environs of the “desolate fens” as a place stained by ancient and archetypal evil (Heaney 2000, 106). The hero Beowulf must eventually enter this monstrous place of nature in order to deliver the Danish people from the moral and physical threat this evil poses. After slaying Grendel, Beowulf pursues the monster’s vengeful mother—a “swamp-thing from hell,” she is called (Heaney 2000, 1518)— across the moors and into a deep lake, at the bottom of which he is attacked by a “bewildering horde” of “sea-beasts” and dragged to an underwater cave where he clashes with and defeats Grendel’s mother (1509–10). With the death of this notorious “wolf of the deep” (2000, 1599), God’s will is enacted and humanity’s moral and physical supremacy over nature’s deepest, darkest places is vindicated. Beowulf also slays a fearsome dragon later in the tale, but the ecological import of the poem lies chiefly in his skirmishes with his more famous aquatic foes. Grendel and his mother are said to be “ravenous” creatures capable of devouring a victim’s “entire body” with a gaping “maw” (Heaney 2000, 1278, 2079–80). They are, in Giblett’s words, “orally sadistic marsh monsters” whose body-swallowing jaws deliberately conjure images of other orally sadistic aquatic monsters “such as alligators [and] crocodiles” (2015, 134). Such creatures have appeared time and again in cultural renderings of fenlands, bogs, and bayous as “projections, displacements and disavowing devices for the greed and gluttony meted out to the earth in mining, pastoralism and wetlands dredging and draining, especially as carried out later by orally sadistic monstrous machines that consume the earth” (Giblett 2015, 134). If Beowulf does not literally drain the swamp, then his iconic purging of its most menacing mythical beasts yields a cultural template for further human intervention within wetland ecologies. For Giblett, this Old English literary victory over the swamps initiates a legacy within fantasy storytelling that is given new life in Tolkien’s unforgiving portrayal of the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings (which bears an uncanny resemblance to Beowulf’s “desolate fens”) and can still be discerned in depictions of nature in popular fantasy texts like the Demon Cycle, to whose demonic incarnations of nature’s diverse ecologies I now turn in more detail. DEMONIC NATURE AND HUMAN HEROISM IN THE DEMON CYCLE Though the Demon Cycle features marsh monsters and river demons, its demonization of nature is not limited to any one ecosystem. In this respect,

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its allegory of human supremacy over nature is more generalized than Beowulf’s. Every ecological region across Thesa has its own set of predatory demons called Corelings who are technically supernatural insofar as they materialize magically from an underground realm called the Core, but in their corporeal frames, they embody elemental aspects of the environments in which they habitually appear. With the exception of mind demons (who have extensive telepathic abilities), Corelings are generally unintelligent primal beasts who hunt along village borders in search of human prey. Most common in the first book of the series, The Warded Man, are wood demons who have a bark-like armored exterior, elongated branch-like arms and claws, and are fiercely protective of their woodland territories against the threat of other demons and human encroachment. Their defeat (alongside other demons) to a group of axe-wielding villagers in the Battle of Cutter’s Hollow near the end of The Warded Man not only bolsters human confidence against a previously unassailable foe, but also establishes a precedent for the village of Cutter’s Hollow’s pressing need to continue expanding its borders into the forests as the series unfolds. Such reclamation of forests and other demon-dominated territories is the mark of heroism in the Demon Cycle. At the beginning of the series, humanity is divided into remote city-states and smaller villages, each of which obsessively guards itself behind a “wardnet”—a perimeter network of painted or etched “warding” symbols that magically repels demons at night. The isolation affected by the constant threat of demon-haunted landscapes separating distant cities sets the stage for the prophesied return of a mythical hero called the Deliverer, who will unify Thesa in a collective effort to eliminate demons and reclaim the land. The Deliverer’s story dates back to what is known as “The First Demon War,” during which he was “called upon by the Creator to lead [humanity’s] armies” against the demon horde (Brett 2009, 37). Following the Deliverer’s victory over the Corelings, humanity enters an “Age of Science” that yields many technological advances but eventually leads to antagonism between human populations, and worse, complacency with respect to the workings of magic and the forgotten menace of demonkind (Brett 2009, 37). When the Corelings return to the earth’s surface millennia later, scientific knowledge fails to defend against them and civilization is thrown into an “Age of Destruction”: “Overnight, the great nations fell, and the accumulated knowledge of the Age of Science burned as flame demons frolicked” (2009, 38). Following years of relentless Coreling predation, humanity discovers “salvation” in “stories once considered fantasy and superstition” that reveal ancient wards of protection (which people begin to “draw clums[ily] in the dirt”) and tell of the Deliverer’s promised return (Brett 2009, 38). The Deliverer’s story is itself one of eco-crisis and restoration, and indeed follows the pattern of “thinning” that Clute (1997) identifies in “structurally


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complete” fantasy stories. On the one hand, a more traditional human-centered reading of the Deliverer’s mythical backstory might view the initial proliferation of demons as “a reduction of the healthy Land to a Parody of itself,” with demonkind acting as the “thinning agent” inflicting damage upon the world, as it is perceived and experienced by humans (Clute 1997, n. p.). On the other hand, an ecocritical reading of the same history might contrarily posit humanity’s suppression of the Corelings as the eco-crisis that reduces the healthy land to a parody of itself. In this view, the Deliverer and his human armies are the thinning agents inflicting damage on the world, impelling the Coreling species to retreat deep within the earth’s Core. On the brink of extinction, the Corelings slowly recover until finally releasing themselves in a devastating return of the repressed that brings with it a serious challenge to humanity’s purportedly divine-sanctioned claim to creation. Such a reading, of course, views Corelings in the Demon Cycle as an indigenous settlement of the natural environment, even though they are viewed by humans as being opposed to nature. The cultural group known as “Krasians,” for instance, who live in a desert to the south of Thesa, refer to Corelings as “Alagai” which directly translates to “plague of Ala” (Brett 2013, 679). “Ala” is the Krasian word for “world,” or more specifically, the “perfect world created by Everam [their God], corrupted by Nie [God’s nemesis]” (679). In this mythical figuration, Corelings are not opposed to nature so much as they are opposed to a certain idea of nature as imagined by humans—which is to say, a “perfect” world stripped of its undesirable elements and available for reclamation. They stand, in other words, as a compelling ecocritical figure opposed to anthropocentrism and humanity’s dominion over the natural world. Like their Thesan counterparts, Krasians also anticipate the prophesied return of a Deliverer figure whose actions will bring restoration to a land they perceive as having been “diminished,” to use Clute’s (1997, n. p.) word, in the wake of Coreling proliferation. Brett’s representation of Krasia, it should be said, is a thinly veiled analog of Persian medievalism, and at times runs the risk of Orientalism—though I would argue that Krasia is no more or less a figure of ideological fantasy than Thesa is a historically displaced rehearsal of idealized European medievalism. Much to Brett’s credit, the figure of Ahmann Jardir as the Krasian Deliverer is no mere foil to what some Thesans would argue is Arlen Bales’s more authentic claim to the Deliverer tradition. Rather, Arlen and Jardir represent two alternative models of heroism whose characters and heroic journeys are evenly developed throughout the series. What is more, their claims to heroism are further complemented by other compelling figures of heroic action in the Demon Cycle, including an unassuming minstrel named Rojer Inn who becomes famous for weaponizing music in the war against demonkind, and a female Herb Gatherer named Leesha Paper who leads the people of Cutter’s Hollow against Coreling

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advances. The point to be made here is that while these models of heroism are diversely framed and occasionally come into conflict with one another, they ultimately share the goal of pushing back against a common foe in an attempt to reclaim the environments that surround and separate human civilization. Provocatively, each of these heroic figures uses some form of cultural discourse as their principal means of attacking the Coreling hordes. Having discovered that demons cannot abide the sound of music or voices raised in song, Rojer trains a group of minstrels to play fiddles and sing ballads that confuse and irritate Corelings during battle, which renders them vulnerable to more conventional modes of attack. Leesha uses her knowledge of medicine and biology to heal wounded comrades on the battlefield and to ascertain weaknesses in Coreling anatomy through meticulous dissection of demon corpses. Her brilliant facility with language also enables her to decode the archaic system of warding symbols on which Arlen and Jardir routinely depend when facing demons in close combat. As the eponymous “warded man,” Arlen has had his entire body tattooed with such symbols; while the ancestral crown that Jardir wears and the Spear of Kaji he carries are similarly etched with wards that allow him to repel demons, absorb their power, and use that power against them. Thus deploying music, science, and language to subdue their nonhuman adversaries, the Demon Cycle’s various iterations of heroic humanity enact the primacy of culture over nature, the human over the nonhuman—anthropocentrism exemplified in each case through technological domination or the instrumentalization of human discourse. As a form of technology, or techne (from the Greek meaning craft or technique in art or rhetoric), wardcraft demarcates culture from nature inasmuch as village wardnets circumscribe the border separating the human from its nonhuman surroundings. In its martial form, however, wardcraft also enforces the structure of domination imposed by culture over nature by facilitating the forceful dispersion of a competing species and persistent encroachment into their native environments. Following the victory of the Battle for Cutter’s Hollow, for instance, Leesha instructs villagers to clear surrounding forests and develop the land in the shape of “greatwards,” which is to say, village-sized warding symbols “formed by cobbled streets, poured crete, [and] large buildings” that can extract magical energy “venting from the Core” deep within the earth (Brett 2013, 473, 505). Mapping its expansion into the woods according to the symbols of wardcraft, the village quite literally imposes the mark of the human on the nonhuman, culture onto nature. The village’s extraction of Core energy through deforestation and greatward technology suitably allegorizes rapacious exploitation of natural resources for distinctly human (in this case, military) purposes. Power drawn from greatwards bolsters village defenses, revitalizes individuals capable of


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absorbing demon magic, and enables Arlen and others like him to teleport along underground Core networks for long-range travel or to gain the element of surprise in short-range combat. Encroachment and deforestation are thus not ends in themselves so much as they are means of accelerating the proliferation of human control over the environment. Humanity’s reclamation of the land, its dominion over the world, necessitates the leveling of natural environments in favor of built ones. Increasingly fewer spaces remain in the world where the presence of demons indicates ecologies untouched by human intervention—places like the immense and pristine landscapes of the Gatherers’ Woods where “wood demons roamed the boughs and prowled the forest bed. Water demons swam its ponds. Wind demons skimmed the wider paths and circled above the clearings” (Brett 2017, 78). At the rate Thesans are building greatwards, says Arlen, “a generation from now, Corelings won’t be able to materialize anywhere in Thesa” (2017, 213). While the “ever-expanding net of interconnected greatwards” hastens the suppression of demonkind above ground (Brett 2017, 13), the Demon Cycle’s two Deliverers, Arlen and Jardir, extend humanity’s reach below the earth as they travel together through underground caverns to confront and eliminate the very source of Coreling propagation—namely, the “demon queen” who resides in the Core at the center of the demon “hive” (2017, 814). It is to the ecological richness of this hymenopteran metaphor of a hive that gathers to a “swarm” in defense of its queen that I would now like to turn (Brett 2017, 209). For this metaphorical comparison captures demonkind’s resistance to human reclamation with an image of avenging nature that exceeds its disavowal as the sacrificial object of fantasy heroism. The wasp-like fury of Coreling retaliation does more than heighten the tension of the Demon Cycle’s climactic battles scenes in the Core. Its pejorative association with the behavior and tactics of drone insects also exposes, rather conspicuously, the anthropocentric bias of the series’s generic move toward restoration—its preference for human superiority over swarm intelligence. THE AVENGING SWARM AND THE NONHUMAN CORE Access to the earth’s Core is itself accomplished through an act of ruthless domination over nonhuman intelligence. Arlen and Jardir capture an ancient mind demon known as the “queen’s consort,” whose intimate knowledge of underground pathways they require for their “plan to attack the hive” (Brett 2017, 213). They imprison this powerful demon within a warded steel box fitted to a wagon for travel across land and later contain him within awarding “bubble” projected from Jardir’s crown. They also bind him with “silver warded chains” that continuously burn his skin and tattoo his body with wards that render him powerless and susceptible to human control (2017,

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472). More than an abundance of caution, these methods of extreme subjugation call to mind egregious forms of domination and cruelty that humanity regularly inflicts on nonhuman beings; but they also extend the Demon Cycle’s allegory of culture’s hierarchical empowerment over nature. If warding symbols tattooed across Arlen’s skin invest the human body with heroic capacity and significance, then their violent inscription onto Coreling skin contrarily exemplifies the power of language to diminish the nonhuman body. More specifically, the Consort’s subjection to the symbols written across his flesh hyperbolizes the more general linguistic operation by which the nonhuman is othered and distorted through human-centered discourse— including, for instance, its disfigurement under the sign of “demon” or “plague of Ala.” Arlen and Jardir’s debasement of the Consort’s body coerces him into helping them navigate the bewildering landscapes of the nonhuman underground world, where they encounter a variety of antagonistic and unfamiliar life forms, “terrors beyond the servants of Nie” (Brett 2017, 524). These life forms hinder Arlen and Jardir’s heroic passage through the Core, while at the same time shock their sensibilities and challenge their understanding of humanity’s place in a world that seems suddenly much vaster and stranger than ever before. Not unlike Beowulf, they are beset by giant tube worms and other “tentacled abominations” when swimming through subterranean lakes and underwater passageways (2017, 522). More disturbingly, they pass a large colony of fungal stalks that release paralytic spores that infect and transform creatures into fungal hybrids who defend the colony “before their bodies are consumed past the point of use” (Brett 2017, 512). One of these creatures, a human male, rises from the stalks to attack them, “his eyes dead, skin pale and dark-veined, with mushrooms sprouting from his ears” (2017, 514). No longer an autonomous individual, this figure’s unsettling mixture of human and nonhuman appendages seriously tests Arlen and Jardir’s sense of human exceptionalism. When they later encounter a feral group of human “core dwellers” who are raised like “livestock” for demon consumption and walk “as much on four limbs as two,” Jardir begins to question his entire Krasian belief system, predicated as it is on the centrality of human superiority: “How could Everam allow this? His children, fighting His war, dragged below his sight by the alagai. Abandoned for hundreds of generations” (Brett 2017, 787, 790–91). The indignity these core dwellers suffer as a cultivated food source is an affront to humanity’s special privilege in the eyes of Jardir’s god. Arlen, who has long remained suspicious of religious orthodoxy, endures his own moment of disbelief. When they finally reach the hive, he feels the tremendous intensity of the Core’s magic presence and wonders if humanity has, in fact, understood the cosmological order of things in reverse: “Maybe there’s a Creator, after all,” he muses. “Just been looking for Him in the


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wrong place” (Brett 2017, 822). In this moment of unexpected awareness, “his whole body thrumming with the call of the Core,” Arlen ostensibly locates the nonhuman (the dwelling place of demonkind, the hive) at the center of meaning, “the source of all life in the world” (2017, 821). If this realization sounds like a potential breakthrough in non-anthropocentric thinking, then the moment is short-lived and represents instead a missed opportunity for ecological insight. For rather than conceding primacy to the nonhuman—ownership of the Core to the Coreling—Arlen’s mind quickly turns toward a distinctly anthropocentric recognition of “greater truth”: if there are demons in the Core, then the “world was out of balance, and there was only one way to set things right” (Brett 2017, 821). Armed with a notion that humanity must forcefully recapture its privileged claim on creation, Arlen and Jardir instigate an uprising among the human core dwellers whose attempts to assert their freedom draws the wrath of the demon swarm long enough for Arlen and Jardir to steal their way to “the center of the hive where the queen lay” (2017, 824). Their encounter with the queen is fittingly epic in scale for a seriesconcluding confrontation between forces coded as good and evil; but its significance for the ecocritical reading lies chiefly in extending the hymenopteran metaphor that renders the nonhuman as an irritable infestation of insects in need of extermination. Brett’s description of the queen, as she lies in a vast chamber “bloated and pulsing” expelling an “endless stream of eggs” from her “distended abdomen,” is particularly evocative of hymenopteran reproduction (2017, 829). She has short “vestigial” legs, a “scaled and slimy” body with a “conical cranium,” and a “reticulated tail” tipped with a “twopronged stinger” that she uses “to kill her female offspring before they could usurp her” (Brett 2017, 829). She is surrounded by “worker demons” who collect her eggs for hatching, and “drones” whom she calls to her defense with a “psychic scream” when Arlen and Jardir enter her nest (2017, 829). Evincing the highly cooperative eusocial behavior so characteristic of wasps and other hymenoptera, the queen’s drones swarm and overpower Arlen and Jardir until Arlen launches a desperate heat-ward attack on the queen’s “growing pile of slime-covered eggs,” killing all the “larvae” that “pulsed and writhed within” (Brett 2017, 832). Horrified by this gruesome massacre, the queen lashes out with her stinger to strike Arlen, who falls limp and collapses as “hot venom” melts his insides like “boiling acid” (2017, 833). Lodged in Arlen’s side pumping its deadly contents into his body, the queen’s expelled stinger halts the narrative with a painfully familiar image of wasp-like retaliation toward human interference, a stark reminder of the consequences of disturbing nature’s most fiercely protected sanctuaries. With its protagonist incapacitated by deadly poison, the Demon Cycle reaches the most critical point of its human-centered conclusion. Fending off a “tightening ring of enemies,” Jardir calls out to his fallen friend: “Fight, son

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of Jeph . . . All Ala hangs in the balance” (Brett 2017, 833). At stake in this battle for the Core is nothing less than the recovery of “Ala,” which is to say, the reclamation of a “perfect world” conceived and controlled by humans, uncorrupted by Alagai, the plague of demonkind. On the verge of death, Arlen reaches out to the rejuvenating magic of the Core, recognizing it as a resource he can extract and appropriate for human purposes: “It all became clear [to him] in that instant . . . Magic was raw power, but it did not have consciousness, a will to bind it. It flowed out from the Core seeking [a form of] true consciousness that could imprint itself on the world in lasting ways” (2017, 841–42). For Arlen, humanity is the rightful heir to this world-shaping power, possessing the capacity to channel and “structure” it in ways the nonhuman never could (2017, 842). The climax of the Demon Cycle is thus a moment of anthropocentrism par excellence. The restoration it envisions entails humanity’s return to the center of the cosmological order as the structuring agent of meaning. This return, moreover, is marked by a radical negation of the nonhuman. Imprinting his consciousness on the magic flowing up from the Core, Arlen’s first attempt at reshaping the world results in an act of speciocidal violence— what is in effect a mass extinction event for the nonhuman. He casts a ring of killing wards around the hive’s innermost chamber and draws it toward himself as demons shriek and burn around him—an action for which the text turns yet again to a hymenopteran analog: “Like crushing ants in his fist, he killed every demon in the chamber from egg to queen” (Brett 2017, 844). He then redirects this awful power outwardly “throughout the hive, cleansing it of drones, and into the hatchery, killing an entire generation of demons” (2017, 844). Still unsatisfied with this scale of corrective violence, Arlen “work[s] his will upon the endless magic of the Core” and extends his reach globally to burn demons everywhere “seeking to destroy them all” (Brett 2017, 844). This climactic turn of events carries the emotional impact of eucatastrophe (so common in fantasy fiction), but it comes at the cost of the eusocial—which is to say, the highly organized social structure of cooperative nonhuman consciousness for which the hive stands. While some Corelings survive this extinction event, they remain a “leaderless” species “pushed farther and farther from their territories” (2017, 853). Executed with extreme prejudice toward the nonhuman, Arlen’s “cleansing” act of heroism completes the text’s human-centered fantasy of a land restored from infestation to health. If his mastery of Core magic reflects the capacity of “true consciousness” to imprint its will on the world in lasting ways, then his mass extermination of demonkind facilitates greater access to previously hostile environments and resources that humanity needs to imprint its collective will on nature. Without demons to ward off human encroachment, Thesa and Krasia’s city-states are free to return to affairs of business and to develop and maintain their respective extraction industries.


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Restoration of the land and the human social order is formally recognized with an economic union codified in the newly signed “Pact of the Free Cities,” which in addition to declaring peace across human populations, institutes “new laws governing trade” in response to a land that is suddenly much less resistant to human reclamation (Brett 2017, 852). CONCLUSION Even as the Demon Cycle projects a largely anthropocentric view of the environment, there are moments when nonhuman perspectives emerge. For example, sections focalized from the Consort’s point of view productively articulate this creature’s suffering at the whims of heroic humanity; but sympathy for his pain is considerably diminished by expressions of sociopathic cunning and repugnant narcissism. As much as one might like to lead the cheer for fantasy’s capacity to inhabit this kind of nonhuman perspective, it is important to recognize that this capacity may work negatively to reinforce rather than unsettle the privileged centrality of human consciousness. Nor should one ignore the fact that fantasy’s impulse toward restoration of the land’s health does not always promote constructive ecocritical insight, especially when the land’s recovery becomes an alibi for encroachment, reclamation, or better access to natural resources. Useful counterexamples to the Demon Cycle can be found within the fantasy genre, including Anne Bishop’s The Others series where human heroism is conceived not in terms of competition but in terms of cooperation with the nonhuman. Bishop casts human reclamation as the thinning agent threatening to diminish a land populated by a group of nonhuman shape shifters called the terra indigene, who (not unlike Corelings) also embody aspects of their natural surroundings. The terra indigene respond to human encroachment in their native habitats by unleashing natural disasters and ferocious predation on human-occupied cities and towns. Focalized predominantly through terra indigene characters and humans ostracized from the human community, Bishop’s series transforms the conventions of paranormal fantasy to deliver an unambiguous allegory of environmentalism in which deference toward nature and its nonhuman custodians is humanity’s only chance for survival. N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch series have likewise been praised for deploying fantasy’s facility for alternative world-building to interrogate humanity’s impact on the environment (see Oler and A. Curry). While these and other authors previously mentioned epitomize fantasy’s exploratory potential for ecocritical thinking, it is equally critical to remain attentive to the genre’s failures to actualize that potential. These failures document not only moments of anthropocentric arrogance in

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fantasy, but resistance to that arrogance as well, particularly when such resistance is captured in the form of monstrous images of avenging nature. As Jeffrey J. Cohen reminds us, monsters are revelatory by nature: “they ask us why we have created them” (1996, 20). Whether they appear as vengeful creatures from the swamp or demonic hymenopteran swarms, the monsters of anthropocentric fantasy linger in the imagination, returning us to the site of their disavowal to call attention to the cultural norms that give them shape. They call us to responsibility, in other words, for their mistreatment at the hands of human heroism and for the negative attitudes about nature and the nonhuman their monstrosity embodies and reflects. REFERENCES Attebery, Brian. 1992. Strategies of Fantasy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Baratta, Chris. 2012. “‘No Name, No Business, No Precious, Nothing. Only Empty. Only Hungry’: Gollum as Industrial Casualty.” In Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, edited by Chris Baratta, 31–46. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Brawley, Chris. 2007. “The Fading of the World: Tolkien’s Ecology and Loss in The Lord of the Rings.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 18 (3): 291–307. Brett, Peter. 2009. The Warded Man. New York: Del Rey. ———. 2011.”Arlen Would Kick Beowulf’s Ass.” Accessed January 10, 2019. http://www. petervbrett. com/2011/03/08/arlen–would–kick–beowulfs–ass/ ———. 2013. The Daylight War. Book Three of the Demon Cycle. New York: Del Rey. ———. 2017. The Core: Book Five of the Demon Cycle. New York: Del Rey. Buse, Katherine. 2013. “Genre, Utopia, and Ecological Crisis: World Multiplication in Le Guin’s Fantasy.” Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism 17 (3): 264–80. Taylor & Francis. Clute, John. 1997. “Thinning.” In Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997). Accessed January 22, 2019. http://sf-encyclopedia.uk/fe.php?nm=thinning. Cohen, Jeffrey J. 1996. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” In Monster Theory: Reading Culture, edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, 3–25. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Curry, Alice. 2014. “Traitorousness, Invisibility and Animism: An Ecocritical Reading of Nnedi Okorafor’s WestAfrican Novels for Children.” International Research in Children’s Literature 7 (1): 37–47. EBSCOhost. Curry, Patrick. 2004. Defending Middle-Earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. Dawson, Melanie. 2012. “Sugared Violets and Conscious Wands: Deep Ecology in the Harry Potter Series.” In Environmentalism in the Realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, edited by Chris Baratta, 69–89. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Dickerson, Matthew T., and Jonathan Evans. 2006. Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J. R. R. Tolkien. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press. Drout, Michael D. C. 2011. “‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’ Seventy-Five Years Later.” Mythlore 30 (1/2): 5–22. Elgin, Don D. 1985. The Comedy of the Fantastic: Ecological Perspectives on the Fantasy Novel. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Giblett, Rod. 2015. “Theology of Wetlands: Tolkien and Beowulf on Marshes and their Monsters.” Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism 19 (2): 132–43. Heaney, Seamus, trans. 2000. Beowulf. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Le Guin, Ursula K. 2007. “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists.” The Wordsworth Circle 38 (1/2): 83–87. JSTOR. Morgan, Alun. 2010. “The Lord of the Rings—A Mythos Applicable in Unsustainable Times?” Environmental Education Research 16 (3/4): 383–99. Taylor & Francis.


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Oler, Tammy. 2018. “Changing the Lore: N. K. Jemisin Is Reimagining Other Worlds, and Ours.” Accessed February 14, 2019. https://slate.com/culture/2018/12/nk-jemisin-shortstories-broken-earth-review.html. Raye, Lee. 2016. “‘Blue Skies, Green Grass’: Is The Redemption of Althalus a Reliable Biological Record?” Fafnir: Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research 3 (2): 25–38. Rueckert, William. 1978. “Into and Out of the Void: Two Essays.” Iowa Review 9 (1): 62–86. JSTOR. Slovic, Scott. 2000. “Ecocriticism: Containing Multitudes, Practising Doctrine.” In The Green Studies Reader: From Romanticism to Ecocriticism, edited by Laurence Coupe, 160–63. London and New York: Routledge. Ulstein, Gry. 2015. “Hobbits, Ents, and Dæmons: Ecocritical Thought Embodied in the Fantastic.” Fafnir: Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research 2 (4): 7–17. Žižek, Slavoj. 1996. The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters. New York: Verso.

Chapter Twelve

Accepting the X Uncanny Encounters with Nature and the Wilderness in Jeff Vandermeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy Carmen M. Méndez García

Though published in 2014, the three novels in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance) have already generated a large body of criticism from very different fields, probably due to the many literary genres (contemporary Gothic, cli-lit, ecocriticism, posthumanism, border studies, animal studies, and new weird fiction, among others) that VanderMeer seems to use, question, and transform. 1 The many genres in the trilogy seem especially adequate in these novels about hybridization, adaptation, mutation, and the end of one domineering species (humankind)’s control over others. In the following pages, I would like to discuss Area X (the predominant space in all three novels) as a liminal region, a heterotopia which is the only environment where authentic encounters with the utterly uncanny may happen. I will argue that the encounters are narrated using conventions from adventure fiction as a genre, connected with human (and thus, organized and rational) exploration on the one hand, and with scientific discoveries and interpretation on the other. For the last two centuries, with the closure of the age of discovery on Earth, the genre of adventure fiction seems to have mutated into the science-fictional subgenre of space exploration. And the final explanation for the appearance of Area X is that it is, indeed, of alien origin: it has been created by an advanced civilization so that the land can modify itself genetically and mutate to repair the environmental damage produced by humans. However, in its setting along the coast of Florida, in its use of characters that never leave Earth while trying to understand the area as 165


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simply a mutation of already-existing life on Earth and/or as the effect of human–produced degradation of natural spaces, the Southern Reach trilogy seems to be paradoxically very much anchored in reality, which in my opinion brings it closer to the classic configurations of adventure fiction than to other tropes associated with space exploration science fiction. Area X is then, in these texts, configured as the contact zone (a term made popular by science fiction, but already present as a concept in early exploration narratives) were troubled encounters between representatives of the human and utterly abject (i.e., non-understandable in human terms) Others take place: these encounters are mediated by our awareness, as readers, of the deep changes produced in our surroundings by our species, with an understanding of our role in deeply modifying our environment and the Environment (with a capital E) during what has been called the Anthropocene. In the novels, a part of Florida known as Area X is being reclaimed by nature after an unexplained accident, and the expeditions sent to make sense of the new space or to bring it back to civilization invariably fail in their endeavor. Nature seems to be fighting back against the colonizing and destructive actions of humanity: the domestication of the marshlands, the extermination of Native Americans by successive waves of Spanish, French, and British inhabitants, the oil spills and the pollution. Thriving with new plants and mutated animals, and stubbornly unmappable, Area X resists interpretation: it refuses both the cartographic and the taxonomical efforts that have historically defined the encounters of human and nature, and its continuous expansion may also imply the collapse of civilization. One after another, the members of the expeditions sent to Area X have not only failed in making sense out of this new nature, but also in “finding” themselves in it. The unknowable environment that VanderMeer presents unveils the pastoral genre as a human invention, a “safe” domestication and ordering of nature that satisfies humanity’s rational drives by repressing the real, untamed state of flora and fauna. Explorers in Area X are made insane by the unknowable surroundings and kill each other or are consumed and incorporated into Area X as new, monstrous organisms. The acts of recognition or, conversely, abjection by which human beings often relate to nature become, thus, useless. While missing explorers of Area X are often incorporated into the area by being transformed into animals resembling local wildlife, there are a few examples of uncanny animals that emphasize the anthropocentric need to understand the animal Other in human terms. One of them is a creature resembling a boar, but with a (familiar) human face, a grotesque being that cannot be fully identified as human or non-human (hence its uncanniness). There are, similarly, dolphins with human eyes, and an owl that one of the protagonists in Acceptance decides to charge with human intentions and

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motivations, trying to give human explanations for what may just be animal behavior. Further summarizing the context and rhetorical strategies of all three books would go beyond the intentions of this chapter: the books follow a non-linear narrative, they have different narrative voices (a diary written in the first person in Annihilation; a third-person, past-tense, focalized narrator in Authority; and five different perspectives and timelines in Acceptance), but all have Area X, as quicksand, as an ever-mutating black hole, at their center. Since my focus will be on Area X, I feel that a description taken from the beginning of the second book, Authority, may help explain what the area looks like, at least objectively, from the outside: [a]bout thirty–two years ago, along a remote southern stretch known by some as the “forgotten coast,” an Event had occurred that began to transform the landscape and simultaneously caused an invisible border or wall to appear. A kind of ghost or “permeable pre-border manifestation” as the files put it—light as fog, almost invisible except for a flickering quality—had quickly emanated out in all directions from an unknown epicenter and then suddenly stopped at its current impenetrable limits (VanderMeer 2014c, 35).

The Event itself is never explained: it is interesting, however, that what is used to cover up the existence of the area is an environmental disaster, and that the area is referred to as a disaster site. Both words, “event” and “disaster” seem to emphasize the accidental, one-time-only quality of whatever changed the area, while eluding direct, continuous human responsibility. However, VanderMeer—whom David Tompkins, in the Los Angeles Review of Books, has referred to as a successor to Henry David Thoreau and Rachel Carson, as “keenly attuned to the ecological issues of his moment” (Tompkins 2014)—has often recognized his preoccupation with the long–lasting effects of our habitation as a species on the planet. The official story from Southern Reach, the clandestine government agency created to study, monitor and control the region, is, however, that Area X is an oddity that is, paradoxically, both created by human negligence (an environmental disaster) and not a human responsibility (an accident). Area X is, indeed, the X, the mystery at the core of the trilogy: as readers, we plunge into it willing to solve the conundrum of its existence. What this area holds, what this area is, what the nature of this Nature is, whether it is a living entity or just a setting, are questions that are not dissimilar to those posed by the diaries of early explorers and adventurers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The trilogy itself is, then, an attempt at uncovering the enigma of Area X, and in trying to use rational, human thought, the characters and narrators turn to exploring, analyzing, and dissecting the space.


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X MARKS THE SPOT: MAPS AND TAXONOMIES IN AREA X Maps and charts are at the core of both land and sea exploration, with accompanying tools, such as compasses, being early and deeply useful technologies for humans to orient themselves, so as to take exploration beyond individual endeavors and to transform it into a communal, repeatable, scalable effort. The creation of maps only acquires full meaning when they can be passed on to explorers that will encounter the same land, and improve on those maps, in future travels. At the beginning of Annihilation, we encounter the only survivor of the twelfth expedition: a woman referred to, simply, as the biologist. In the eleven previous expeditions technologies such as recorders, communicators, compasses, or the orientation provided by maps, have failed: explorers are required to keep their own travel diaries, in an attempt to reconstruct, given the lack of working objective technological tools, a kind of multifaceted, subjective explanation for the existence and ontology of Area X. Even the simplest of maps obtained from the observations of previous explorers (who systematically get sick and die soon after coming back from the area) becomes useless from one expedition to the next, or even in the course of just one expedition. Two towers, however, seem to be more or less stable as spatial markers for the area: one of them is a lighthouse, one of the few remains of human activity in the region; the other, a topographical anomaly, also confusingly referred to as “a tower” by the biologist, but as a tunnel by the other characters. The topographical anomaly is not found in maps, and it is described, very early in the first book, as something that seems created (though not necessarily by humans), but also as something that should not be there nor exist at all. When the members of the twelfth expedition find it, the biologist explains that At first, only I saw it as a tower. I don’t know why the word tower came to me, given that it tunneled into the ground. I could as easily have considered it a bunker or a submerged building. Yet as soon as I saw the staircase, I remembered the lighthouse on the coast (VanderMeer 2014b, 5).

The tower/tunnel thus becomes another crack in the ontological security of the explorers: not only because it should not exist since it is not in the official maps, but also because it is not semantically stable: it should be either a tunnel or a tower, but it cannot be both. Likewise, the lighthouse, which as a beacon of light is one of the staples of sea navigation, marking a safe, stable haven, is imagined as “a glowing flower in a hole at the bottom of the sea” (VanderMeer 2014a, 56), not fit to provide guidance as to the limits of Area X. Jon Hegglund has indicated that the narrative “presents a plausible, realist

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spatiality on the sentence level,” but the mental map of what is narrated “undermines any notion of a normative ‘real world’ from which mimetic representation may or may not be derived” (2020, 36). Gry Ulstein has referred to the “intensely real spatiality” of the area as “creating Escheresque spatial ruptures” (2019, 139). And just as Escher’s engravings emphasize the discordance between what is seen by the eyes and what is interpreted by the brain, Area X’s continuous mutation, its geographical indeterminacy, makes the process of creating and reading maps futile. Another main feature of maps, that of scale, which helps travelers orient themselves in space through the abstract representation of a given territory, is also denied by the existence of Area X, which as an area that “has no borders and produces creatures of unfathomable dimensions” (Tesselaar 2019, 2), and where the same trip may take a night or half a week, with characters inside the area attesting to having stayed there for only two days while they have been gone for three years following external time. Orientation provided by stable markers, by maps, by compasses, by recognizable borders and landmarks, is one of the ways in which humans apply reason to, and make sense of, a space: in its troubling and ultimately unknowable existence, Area X is a space of utter disorientation. Another way in which human beings try to make sense of reality is writing: even writing to oneself works as a way to solidify knowledge, to give stability to our understanding of our surroundings. The task given to the members of all expeditions is two–fold: on the one hand, writing in their field diaries may help them, individually, to come to terms with Area X, an uncanny landscape that not only affects the senses, but also creates, as Amaris E. Montes has described, a deep “ontological instability” (2018, 79). On the other hand, the Southern Reach hopes to be able to create some kind of collaborative version of what the expeditions encounter that is more objective than isolated individual accounts. Field journals are recognizable artifacts in adventure narratives: they emphasize analytical thinking, which is supposed to be one of the strengths of the protagonists and narrators of such tales, while also allowing the reader to witness the progressive fall into madness of the writer of the journal when confronted with the unknown or the uncanny. Just as Area X challenged scientific capture, with technological equipment being disturbed by the space and failing to work the moment it enters the area, providing readings that are undecipherable, as if Area X “declines to be interpreted” (VanderMeer 2014a, 44), writing about the experience in the diaries is also an insufficient tool, since Area X disturbs one of the main instruments human have to understand the world and communicate it to others: language. Area X “confuses normal human abilities to speak about a place” (Mundy 2019, 52): the instability of the signifier/signified relationship when referring to the topographical anomaly, at the same time tower and tunnel, would be a good


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example. The biologist’s diary shows her growing absorption by and acceptance of Area X, an acceptance that is, however, not rational and which cannot be explained in rational terms through writing. The characters do not have the words to talk about Area X: even if, in our Romantic assumptions about Nature with a capital N, we often insist that Nature should be experienced, not described, writing still remains one of our main ways of relating to nature. Not having the words to describe Area X creates a “cumulative confusion” that, to Brad Tabas, seems to be suggesting that whatever that nature is “does not fit with any of our names or descriptions, that it is a thing with no proper analogue in our language and no proper precursor in our past perceptions” (2015, 12). Area X is beautiful, thriving, but scary to humans mostly because it cannot be described, what produces a continuous stream of “failures of language to signify, failures of mediation and translation and even perception” (Doane 2019, 26). The biologist, just as “centuries of explorers encountering alien land before her . . . cannot make sense of this exotic terrain, even while relying on the maps and journals of her predecessors” (Hogue 2016, 159). Just as the biologist (and, later, the protagonist of the second book, John “Control” Rodriguez) ends up mutating, accepting and becoming a part of a space she cannot understand rationally, the diaries are found at the end of book one to be part of the lighthouse, turned into a decomposing pile that can be interpreted as “dead bodies, a rotting mound that documents a history of unnamed expeditions gone awry” (Kortekallio 2019, 68). As the biologist notes, “from below, the way the midden spilled out in ripples and hillocks of paper became more apparent. Torn pages, crushed pages, journal covers warped and damp. Slowly the history of exploring Area X could be said to be turning into Area X” (VanderMeer 2014b, 112; emphasis added). Naming and classifying, finding specific words for specific objects, could be said to be the original, and also ultimate, rational motion of individuation produced by humans. Whitby, one of the characters working for the Southern Reach, gets obsessed with taxonomizing Area X and its constituent parts: naming is solving the mystery. The instability of Area X and what it holds, its existence as “not a being but a becoming” (Sendur 2019, 52), does not keep Whitby from creating a “grotesque museum” that Brian Onishi has connected with cabinets of curiosities that became prevalent in the sixteenth century and which were connected to the age of exploration, “constructed from a collection of strange and wondrous objects . . . a means of organizing, cataloguing, and representing the breadth and interconnectedness of reality” (2017, 69). Just as the biologist’s efforts to read Area X, when she is penetrated by nature after approaching fluorescent lichen and leaning in “closer, like a fool, like someone who had not had months of survival training or ever studied biology. Someone tricked into thinking that words should be read” (VanderMeer 2014b, 25), the fruitless efforts by Whitby to make sense of the

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objects and incomplete or incongruous scientific data displayed in his cabinet of curiosities end up having the uncanniness of Area X enter his mind and drive him to insanity (a fate common to other fictional explorers). The incomprehensibility of Area X thus ends up spilling into the agency exploring it, something that is especially relevant as the agency is at first described as a model of static officialdom, sunk by the “byzantine depths of its crumbling bureaucracy” (Magnone 2016), a place where power plays are seen in terms of control of the space, with characters trying to impose on each other’s “territory, to show . . . [they are] comfortable there” (VanderMeer 2014c, 159), something that Siobhan Carroll connects to “the history of imperialism” (2016, 79) also found in Florida. The Southern Reach as a space is shown as deteriorating, clearly suggesting that it is a failing space for a failing task: understanding Area X. As I have mentioned, the encounter between the Southern Reach and Area X can be read as a “first contact” narrative, one that has its precedents in adventure narratives and which has lately been almost solidified in the encounters, through outer space exploration, of alien civilizations in science fiction. Early first contact narratives such as the Indies chronicles already emphasized what has become a staple of the genre: the sense of wonder, the mystery that a brave new world and its peoples produce in the explorer. Area X could, then, be read as the ultimate mystery: its origin is unknown, its possibilities and capabilities ever-mutating and incomprehensible, and even its existence as a place is hard to conceptualize (how long does it reach for, why is it that usual time–space coordinates seem not to work inside the area itself). Something that is noticeable about the Southern Reach trilogy as a first contact text, however, is that it often lacks the utter horror that is often found in narratives about adventure and exploration, such as At the Mountains of Madness (1936), by H. P. Lovecraft. There is, rather, an acceptance, even an exhilaration at the possibilities of this utterly distinct reality and its thriving existence, once the characters are relieved of the rational need to understand it imposed by the Southern Reach. In the encounter with Area X, characters (not only, but significantly, the one dubbed “Control”) need to let go of their own controlling attitudes, of trying to understand nature in order to feel at ease with it, an attitude that Benjamin Robertson connects with the need for the protagonists to come out of “assumptions about the objectivity of science . . . [and trying to come to terms with] the extent to which they are not the centers of their worlds or the masters of their destinies in the ways they previously believed” (2019, 31). It is certainly significant that VanderMeer places Area X near the coast of Florida, a land that has been subjected to cycles of (Spanish, French, British) colonization, possession and repossession described by Bev Hogue: “contested terrain since the moment Europeans first touched on its shores and began the long history of battles . . . that resulted in historical traumas that


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many would prefer to forget: displacement and destruction of Native American tribes, slavery followed by entrenched racial injustice, and struggles for control of land and natural resources” (2016, 149). To Hogue, the way Area X is portrayed turns “Florida itself into a monster reflecting, mimicking, and consuming human explorers . . . [echoing] the experiences of the early European explorers who encountered in Florida terrifyingly unfamiliar terrain and creatures” (158). Area X had previously been just part of human–inhabited space, and signs of that previous possession of the now unpossessable land can be found in “eerie signs of human habitation: rotting cabins with sunken, red-tinged roofs, rusted wagon-wheels spokes half-buried in the dirt, and the barely seen outlines of what used to be enclosures for livestock, now mere ornament for layers of pine-needle loam” (VanderMeer 2014b, 5). The recognizable quality of these images make the expeditioners to Area X and the readers think of the space and life in it as familiar, and thus maybe close to what they know, as a house that could easily be rebuilt into a home, but the reality of the place is that it is dominated by its un-homeliness (unheimlich) uncanniness, something I will develop in the second part of my essay. ENCOUNTERS WITH THE UNCANNY: OTHERNESS IN THE LATE ANTHROPOCENE I have previously referred to the Southern Reach trilogy as using the trope of the contact zone, a liminal place where the Other is encountered. Nature in Area X is completely alien—not necessarily, thought it will prove to be the big reveal in the last novel, because of its out-of-Earth origin, but because it is mostly inexplicable by humans, both the explorers in the books and the readers of the novels. The encounters with the Other in the trilogy partake of what Darko Suvin identifies as a specific kind of cognitive estrangement in science fiction, dealing with “an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” (1979, 4). Mundy refers to the world in VanderMeer’s books as part of what she dubs the “ecological uncanny,” which forces us to remember “the repressed knowledge that the world around us is not separate from us; it is a home that we have forgotten is home” (2019, 4). Area X is an environment that used to be “homely” (i.e., domesticated, made into a home, a domos) and that is now foreign precisely because it is separate from humanity and non-understandable in human terms. Often referred to as a “pristine wilderness” in the books (and thus expressing a nostalgic but absolutely artificial idea of what nature may have been before it was observed by humans), nature in Area X is far from what Onishi claims we desire as human beings: “carefully manicured gardens, trees that line our freeways, and ‘pristine wilderness’ with a gift shop” (2017, 69). Gardens are

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safe, controlled, and organized in accordance to human needs, desires, and tastes, “safe . . . for cultivating nature as we see fit” versus Area X, a “dangerous garden full of wildness that . . . expels the totalizing knowledge of human project” (65). One of the main tasks of colonizers throughout history was to make a home in their new territory, a process that can be only undertaken, as Sara Crosby states, “by making it like them . . . embark[ing] on a self-conscious program to turn the ‘wilderness’ into a ‘garden’” (2014, 516). Area X does not, however, comply with the awe produced by the sublime Nature, with a capital N, celebrated by the Romantics; it is not, either, compliant with the fallacy of a benign, nurturing mother found in Emerson, or with the pastoral idea of a simpler time where nature and humans could be in communion. Many of the ways in which Area X is unhomely, uncanny, vaguely familiar but ultimately causing abjection, is the inability by the expeditioners to make sense of the fauna that they encounter. Most of the cognitive estrangement that Suvin refers to takes place in the world-creating effort in the first book of the series, Annihilation, through the field journal of the biologist. The biologist has been specifically selected for the mission because of her training, and her knowledge and recognition of fauna and flora in their natural environments. As the narrative advances, both the biologist and her journal are “contaminated” by Area X (thus negating any possibility of objective scientific analysis, which must keep the observer and the observed—except in the case of the process of participant observation much more common in anthropological and sociological studies—as two separate entities). The biologist’s early astonishment at not being able to categorize the animals that she encounters turns into an acceptance of a different nature with its own laws and, maybe, intentions. VanderMeer uses animals belonging to what has been called “megafauna” (i.e., big, “smart” animals in human terms, which are more likely to produce empathy and a sense of protection in humans, such as panda bears, whales, dolphins, or big cats) to create a sense of cognitive estrangement and uncanniness that would be more difficult to provoke using animals that humans often have more problems with seeing as in need of protection (such as insects). Thus, the biologist encounters a pod of dolphins, and one of them rolls “slightly to the side, and it stared at me with an eye that did not, in that brief flash, resemble a dolphin eye . . . it was painfully human, almost familiar” (VanderMeer 2014b, 97). The uncanniness of the dolphin is multiplied by the abjection produced by recognizing a human body part in an animal that, though recognized as smart, is supposed to be, rationally, below humans and thus in need of being protected. Area X has fused and mutated the genetic code of both dolphin and human, and created a new kind of animal, part of what Sophia B. Magnone calls an “uncanny menagerie” (2016) that is neither human nor dolphin, and which


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can also not be considered to be part of a process of evolution, that is, an “improvement” on both species, in human terms. The concept of “terroir,” which is introduced in the second book to talk about the creatures and space produced by Area X, may help us understand what is being said about the existence of a new, inapprehensible, natural world beyond the Southern Reach. Whitby explains terroir as “a wine term . . . the specific characteristics of a place—the geography, geology, and climate that, in concert with the vine’s own genetic propensities, can create a startling, deep, original vintage” (VanderMeer 2014c, 130–131). As Whitby develops, the direct translation of “terroir” is “a sense of place” (131); also, the similar sound of terroir and terror (one of the dominant emotions in the encounters with Area X) though not etymologically related, hint at a possible connection in the mind of the reader. Furthermore, if Area X is to be thought of as a vineyard, the implication is that it can be cultivated, that is, domesticated, farmed, turned into something that can be used for and by humans. One of the main causes of transformations in terroir is, precisely, climate change, which is by now agreed on by the scientific community to have been caused by human technological developments: be it either by the direct action of domestication, or by the work of centuries produced by the Anthropocene, human efforts centralized in the Southern Reach attempt to explain the changes as somehow connected to human action. Area X, however, defies apprehension in human measurements: as Andrew Strombeck argues, “it warps landscape, animals, and humans alike, and the expeditions sent into it fail to learn anything, other than ‘something happened’” (2019, 352). This will lead some of the characters, most notably Control, to be convinced that, even if Area X cannot be understood, it must have a purpose: “to kill us, to transform us, to get rid of us” (VanderMeer 2014a, 188). Control describes the land between the Southern Reach building and Area X’s border as a war zone, “just thirty-five miles of paved road and then another fifteen unpaved beyond that, with ten checkpoints in all, and shoot-to-kill orders if you weren’t mean to be there, and fences and barbed wire and trenches and pits” (VanderMeer 2014c, 28), while Whitby refers to the area as “an organism . . . with a million greedy mouths . . . a murderer we’re trying to catch” (VanderMeer 2014a, 43). This understanding of Area X as the villain, as the enemy, as having some kind of “monstrous nature” (Mundy 2019, 12), a destructive element that has to be contained and quarantined, is radically different from both the understanding of Ghost Bird (one of the mutations of the biologist produced by Area X) and Control’s final yield into the land. Efforts by the Southern Reach to understand the area, however, always have to do with its being treated as either machine or organic Other, such as the ludicrous moment when two thousand white rabbits are left near the border: there is the hope by the scientists that this excess of input may produce as its output an “overload” of the system which will short-circuit the

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border or the area. Area X is, paradoxically, seen there both as a mechanism which can be forced to shut itself off, and as a thinking enemy with its own evil intentions. The result of the experiment is disappointing: rabbits, an invasive species, do not seem to propagate or exist inside Area X, and they just disappear “as they hit the edge of the border. There was no ripple, no explosion of blood or organs. They just disappeared” (VanderMeer 2014c, 56). The border and Area X do not “react” with any purpose (the rabbits are not killed, nor rejected) that can be understood in rational terms, contradicting the Southern Reach’s assumption that it must either have an intention or be inherently dangerous, something that Magnone identifies as “embedded in broad-based cultural norms of sickness and health, contamination versus purity . . . overflowing its boundaries and mixing with the outside world, it is considered suspect—improper, diseased, and potentially dangerous” (2016). It is worth noting at this point that the border itself, in the novels, is invisible and the expeditioners are put under some kind of hypnosis so that they will not remember the act of crossing it, but just appear somewhere in the middle of Area X with no memory of how they crossed it. The contrast between the border himself, hinted at as permeable and fluid, and the complex technical procedure to enter or leave the area hints at Area X as artificially separated from humanity by humans, not by a desire of this alien nature to be disconnected from its surroundings. The unclear border of Area X can also be seen as a heterotopia in Foucauldian terms, where different realities and interpretations of what the space is are forced to coexist. Much of the trilogy can be read as “a story about borders: about the order and security they promise, the function of the divisions they uphold, and most bewitchingly, about what happens when they are breached” (2016). Area X does, when it expands, end human life as we know it, by absorbing and mutating both humans and human–made artifacts. There is a suggestion at the end of the third book that Area X may have, in fact, already absorbed most of the Earth: as W. Andrew Shephard suggests, this can be read as suggestive that the Anthropocene, “like all eras, will eventually come to an end” (2019, 41). The experience of Area X by the biologist is completely opposite to its being an organic or mechanic enemy: she describes the natural surroundings as a space of possibility, “a blank surface that let us write so many things upon it” (VanderMeer 2014b, 9), what Hogue refers to as a “palimpsest” (2016, 159). As compared to the grey bureaucracy of the Southern Reach, Area X is obviously thriving, vibrant, with a most rich biosphere that cannot even be taxonomized in human terms. At the end of the trilogy, Ghost Bird believes in the need to observe the world outside Area X “through the eyes of Area X” (VanderMeer 2014a, 329), recognizing that understanding the new reality does not entail the creation of maps, and refusing to see Area X as enemy or machine, ceding human-centered control of the way space is to be interpreted. At the same time, we witness yet another mutation of the biolo-


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gist by Area X that clearly emphasizes the borderlessness at the core of the space: the final form of this mutation is “an animal, an organism that had never existed before or that might belong to an alien ecology. That could transition not just from land to water but from one remote place to another, with no need for a door or a border” (VanderMeer 2014a, 196). Ghost Bird recognizes this new creature as both part and not part of her former and present self, while Control is able to imagine his own demise as “melt[ing] into this landscape, becom[ing] part of what he found here, try[ing] to forget what had happened before and become no more or less than the spray against the bow, the foam against the shore, the wind against his face” (VanderMeer 2014c, 327). As a number of critics have analyzed, VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy should be understood in the context of Morton’s hyperobjects, which are deeply connected to the study of our era as part of what has been dubbed the Anthropocene. VanderMeer himself has recognized the link between his trilogy and hyperobjects a posteriori, that is, he learned about the term after having published the books. In his essay “Hauntings in the Anthropocene,” VanderMeer recognizes Morton’s concept of the hyperobject as “central to thinking about storytelling in the modern era . . . a very important signifier for any fiction writer wishing to engage with the fragmented and diffuse issues related to the Anthropocene” (2016). Hyperobjects have been defined by Morton as objects so massively distributed, either in space or time (or both), that they can be imagined or computed, but not touched or seen directly (2013, 37–39). It is easy to see Area X as a hyperobject: the area is distributed in space so that nobody knows exactly its size (at some point, the characters feel that, being in Area X, they may even be outside the Earth), but also its specific moment of origin, and the time of its eventual disappearance, are unknown. Also, as I have developed, any attempts at measuring or observing the area scientifically are doomed to failure. Recognizing the existence of the Anthropocene itself seems to be, today, beyond a scientific task, a deeply moral one. Scientists willing to accept that there is such thing as a geological era called Anthropocene do not quite agree on when such an era would have started: it could extend as far back as the beginnings of organized farming almost twelve thousand years ago, or the age of discoveries, or the nineteenth century and industrialization, or the more recent phase of industrialization in the second half of the twentieth century. But there is indeed a very recognizable (and mostly pernicious) influence of humankind and human-made technologies on nature and the planet, which may be connected to what is being termed the Holocene extinction or sixth mass extinction, an ongoing destruction of many species of the planet due to the dominance of humans as an unprecedent (even if unaware) global superpredator. As Hegglund asserts, “the recognition of the Anthropocene has prompted a reexamination of what may be possible in the natural world . . . a Europe-sized patch

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of floating plastics in the Pacific, poison-resistant urban rats, post-Fukushima radioactive boars . . . such actually existing weird materialities blur clear distinctions between the natural and the unnatural” (2020, 29). Our recognition of the Anthropocene also comes at a time when humanity as a species is most strongly coming to question our place in the universe as a whole. The trilogy, however, seems to separate itself from the apocalyptic genre, as there is not so much lamentation for what will be lost, but a celebration of what may happen in that brave weird world defined by uncanny beauty when there are no human left to “understand” or “explain” the result. Yet, the books do emphasize the good in human nature, in a species that seems to be bound to disappear: the novels’ insistence on gender, ethnic, class, and sexual orientation diversity seems not to unflinchingly celebrate the apocalypse as a final solution to the pernicious influence of the species, but maybe as a way to mutate and reconstruct what is positive in human beings, producing new species that can exist in a more balanced relationship with nature. As Doane has stated, the novels “offer readers a gentle, planetary euthanasia that is marked by some horror, yes, but also by fascination and wonder. Death by absorption. By transformation” (2019, 25). VanderMeer has recognized that at the core of his trilogies lies the idea that “without complex viable ecosystems for nonhuman life . . . human life will not survive on this planet. And there is, practically speaking, no other place to go. So we need to think deeply about these issues and come up with complex solutions that do the most good and least harm” (2018). The task of the reader, then, lies in the recognition of VanderMeer’s texts as not simply escapist, or apocalyptic, but as a complex political artifact that, using adventure fiction as a genre and emphasizing the imprint and footprint of humans on the spaces we inhabit, may move us towards new ways of relating to the natural world and the planet. NOTE 1. This article was written as part of the research conducted for the Project “Troubling Houses: Dwellings, Materiality, and the Self in American Literature” (FFI2017–82692–P), MINECO/AEI/FEDER, UE), funded by the Spanish Government and the European Union.

REFERENCES Carroll, Siobhan. 2016. “The Terror and Terroir: The Ecological Uncanny in New Weird Exploration Narratives.” Paradoxa 28: 67–87. Crosby, Sara L. 2014. “Beyond Ecophilia: Edgar Allan Poe and the American Tradition of Ecohorror.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 21, no. 3: 513–525. Doane, Bethany. 2019. “Mediating VanderMeer’s Area X.” SFRA Review 330: 25–28. Hegglund, Jon. 2020. “Unnatural Narratology and Weird Realism in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation.” In Environment and Narrative. New Directions in Econarratology, edited by Erin James and Eric Morel, 27–44. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.


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Hogue, Bev. 2016. “Florida Gothic: Shadows in the Sunshine State.” In The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic, edited by Charles Crow and Susan Castillo Street, 149–160. New York: Palgrave. Kortekallio, Kaisa. 2019. “Becoming–instrument: Thinking with Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects.” In Reconfiguring Human, Nonhuman and Posthuman in Literature and Culture, edited by Sanna Karkulehto, Aino–Kaisa Koistinen and Essi Varis, 57–75. London and New York: Routledge. Magnone, Sophia Booth. 2016. “Human Contamination: The Infectious Border Crossings of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X.” Somatosphere. Last modified July 6, 2016. http:// somatosphere.net/2017/human-contamination-the-infectious-border-crossings-of-jeffvandermeers-area-x.html/. Montes, Amaris E. 2018. “Sublime Annihilation and the Weird: An Aesthetic for Times of Anthropocene Indeterminacy.” Master’s Thesis, University of Amsterdam. Morton, Timothy. 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Mundy, Morgan E. 2019. “‘Nothing Monstrous Existed Here’: Uncanny Nature in The Southern Reach Trilogy.” BA Thesis, The University of Mississippi. Onishi, Brian. 2017. “Terror and Terroir: Porous Bodies and Environmental Dangers.” Trespassing Bodies 6: 60–73. Robertson, Benjamin J. 2019. “Annihilation and the Historicity of Horror.” SFRA Review 330: 29–33. Sendur, Elif. 2019. “Area X, Tangible Bodies, and the Impossibility of Individuation.” SFRA Review 330: 49–54. Shephard, W. Andrew. 2019. “‘This End of Everything’: The Southern Reach Trilogy and the Already Ended World.” SFRA Review 330: 40–48. Strombeck, Andrew. 2019. “The Weird, the Ontological, and the Normal.” American Literary History 31, no. 2: 347–355. Suvin, Darko. 1979. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Tabas, Brad. 2015. “Dark Places: Ecology, Place, and the Metaphysics of Horror Fiction.” Miranda 11: 1–21. Tesselaar, Nina J. E. 2019. “From Splinters to Stitching Skies: An Ecocritical Scale-Reading of Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach.” BA Thesis, Utrecht University. Tompkins, David. 2014. “Weird Ecology: On The Southern Reach Trilogy.” Los Angeles Review of Books. Last modified Sept. 30, 2014. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/weirdecology-southern-reach-trilogy/. Ulstein, Gry. 2019. “‘Through the Eyes of Area X’: (Dis)locating Ecological Hope via New Weird Spatiality.” In Spaces and Fictions of the Weird and the Fantastic: Ecologies, Geographies, Oddities, edited by Julius Greve and Florian Zappe, 129–147. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature Switzerland AG. VanderMeer, Jeff. 2014a. Acceptance. London: Fourth State. ———. 2014b. Annihilation. London: Fourth State. ———. 2014c. Authority. London: Fourth State. ———. 2016. “Hauntings in the Anthropocene. An Initial Exploration.” Environmental Critique. Last modified July 7, 2016. https://environmentalcritique.wordpress.com/2016/07/07/ hauntings–in–the–anthropocene/. ———. 2018. “I’m Jeff VanderMeer, author of Borne and the Southern Reach Trilogy, here to answer your questions. Ask Me Anything!” Reddit. Last modified May 30, 2018. www. reddit.com/r/books/comments/8n90mp/im_jeff_vandermeer_author_of_borne_and_the/.

Chapter Thirteen

Ecocritical Archaeologies of Global Ecocide in Twentieth-First-Century Post-Apocalyptic Films Mónica Martí

According to Susan Sontag’s 1961 article “The Imagination of Disaster,” apocalyptic speculation is a constant in history, but one that illustrates shifting political and moral positions from one period to another, reflecting the major anxieties and dilemmas of each time (224). In contemporary apocalyptic films, ecological sustainability stands out as one of the most frequent and pressing causes of global disaster. The environment occupies a central narrative and aesthetic place in twenty-first-century post-apocalyptic movies such as Children of Men (Cuarón 2006), The Road (Hillcoat 2009), The Day after Tomorrow (Emmerich 2004), The Happening (Shyamalan 2008), Snowpiercer (Joon-ho 2013), Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller 2015), and Interstellar (Nolan 2014), among many others. These contemporary films represent ecocritical archaeologies of global ecocide that posit nature at a determinant crossroads in the Anthropocene—a historical moment when human activities are producing potentially irreversible harming effects on the biosphere (Crutzen 2002), which could bring about the end of humanity. Twenty-first-century post-apocalyptic cinema offers a prolific textual ground for the analysis of competing discourses on global environmental futures in the Anthropocene, partaking of a cultural paradigm shift “from an unquestioned anthropocentric perspective to an ecocentric one” (WilloquetMaricondi 2010, 5). Just like sublime natural landscapes in film may “reconnect audiences with their inclusive eco-system” via their “utopian spatial aesthetic” (Brereton 2005, 11–12), the dystopian spaces of cinematic ecodisasters remind viewers of their collective dependence and submission to nature. Polluted rivers in Children of Men, trees falling in The Road, contam179


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inated dust in Interstellar, frozen seas in The Day After Tomorrow, sterile valleys in Mad Max: Fury Road, all join world citizens under a unifying natural canopy-ecocide. Protagonists in these films inhabit a global neoliberal society in ruins, where spoilt land, destroyed geographical landmarks and dead-end spaces map out an exhausted status quo in need of renovated utopian referents and sustainable global cartographies. Yet, as Joanna Zylinska argues, the Anthropocene triggers divergent narratives “about ourselves and about the world around us”, which may be critical of capitalism and its impact on the environment, or still recur to capital for the finding of solutions to the problems it poses (2018, 4–5). In the case of contemporary apocalyptic films concerned with environmental disasters, approaches to the crises brought by the Anthropocene vary greatly. Cinematic narratives of the end put forward diverse political statements on the agents and causes responsible for disaster, on the actors that survive, and on the distribution of resources in post–catastrophe social configurations (Gurr 2015, 1–7). These ideological discourses can be tied, in turn, to specific film representations of nature, which might be “described as a threat, felt as a loss, or seen as a life-giving and healing force, and each approach can influence certain kind of outcomes” (Gottlieb 2007, 49). The following pages explore miscellaneous representations of socio-environmental disaster in contemporary post-apocalyptic films. The first part looks into cinematic dead-end spaces that often stress the negative impact of neoliberalism on environment and society alike. Then, the analysis moves on to the examination of natural spaces in the movies—wild, pastoral, and polluted spaces whose film representation can be connected with specific political and utopian perspectives on global futures. Thus, though placing ecology as a central urgent issue for global politics and society, twenty-first-century film archaeologies of global ecocide ultimately endorse radically differing alleys away from apocalypse. ROADS LEADING NOWHERE: SPACES DENOUNCE EXHAUSTED PARADIGMS OF PROGRESS Disorienting spaces, damaged infrastructures, deteriorated maps, and ruined landmarks abound in contemporary ecocritical post-apocalyptic movies, mapping out the exhaustion of ecocidal paradigms of progress in the neoliberal global order. The network of freeways that connect depopulated wastelands in The Road; the vast green areas releasing toxic chemicals to defend themselves from polluting humans in The Happening; and the circular railway that goes around a frozen world victim of climate change in Snowpiercer portray, among many other post–apocalyptic film spaces, the roads leading nowhere put up by an unsustainable socio–economic system. While in

Ecocritical Archaeologies of Global Ecocide in Post-Apocalyptic Films


Snowpiercer first-class passengers still insist in maintaining the neoliberal exploitative logics that caused apocalypse in the first place, the film spaces of eco–disaster picture the futility of continuing ahead on ecocidal routes that can only lead to catastrophe. Thus, if J. G. Ballard questioned whether the automobile culture could be defined as “Autopia or Autogeddon,” noting cars are “based upon a nineteenth-century technology—the internal-combustion engine” (as cited in Wollen 2002, 10), the post-apocalyptic films mentioned above openly make the case for Autogeddon. Their film spaces illustrate the apocalyptic effects of fuel-based unsustainable “progress,” and exhibit the need of newly devised sustainable technologies, strategies, cultures, and ideals. Besides denouncing the unfeasible prolongation of ecocidal neoliberal development, most ecocritical post-apocalyptic films also reject escape and immobility as valid solutions to eco-disaster in the Anthropocene. Protagonists’ flights are habitually fruitless. The dusty escape route amidst the desert landscapes in Mad Max: Fury Road, and the labyrinth exit that teenagers have to reach in The Maze Runner (Ball 2014) do not herald salvation. For protagonists to succeed in their survival missions, they have to return to the power structures they originally flee from. Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her accolades in Mad Max: Fury Road, and the teen pack in The Maze Runner must go back to cities dominated by despotic elites (patriarchal in the first title, corporate in the second) that exploit slaves and natural resources alike. These cities need to be retaken and transformed if the seeds of the future are ever to grow again on spoilt arid land. Therefore, the solution to environmental disaster depends on revolution, political commitment and reform of the status quo, not on evasion. Immobility is not an option, either. Neither a privileged suburban retire nor a secluded bunkered family home provide safe conducts to protagonists away from Earth’s expected destruction in Melancholia (Trier 2011) and Take Shelter (Nichols 2011). This way, film spaces declare that continuing straight ahead along the same ecocidal path, running away, or hiding from eco-disaster are not effective answers to contain apocalypse; and they do so via specific mise-en-scène elements and settings such as deteriorated infrastructures, inhospitable urban, suburban and rural areas, and blind alleys. The Road, in particular, offers very illustrative examples of allegoric dead-end film spaces via abandoned highways that work as representatives of failed capitalist progress. Deserted and neglected, the roads of the title stand for immobility, disorientation and scarcity, rather than mobility, growth and freedom. Similarly, empty stores and gas stations dispel consumerist promises of material happiness. Pushing their rusted shopping trolley along endless empty highways, the father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit–McPhee) in the film evoke, according to Susan Balée, “the worst fear of the world’s ultimate consumers: being consumed themselves” (2007, 518).


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Nameless and aimless, father and son work as prototypes of a vanished urban capitalist culture and a wrecked global neoliberal society. Usually shown in close-ups or in extreme long shots, they are rarely related to their damaged environment in medium shots. Alienated from both their urbanite background and the natural world their species originally springs from, they seem to embody the defeated exponents of what could be labeled homo capitalist, wandering, on foot, deserted roads that lead nowhere. Also allegorical are the infertile landscapes in the film, which, devoid of recognizable landmarks and locations, function at the highest figurative level to denounce the global-scale effects of our ecocidal behavior as species. According to Kapur and Wagner, even if set in local contexts, contemporary films are characterized by “a global sense of space” that often allows the critical reading of “the wreckage wrought by capital” (2011, 6–15). Drawing on this idea, it could be argued that by means of refusing to pin down any specific locations, causes or individuals to blame for eco-disaster, The Road stresses that responsibility for ecocide in the Anthropocene is collective; denouncing, in particular, the dreadful environmental inheritance left to young generations like the child in the movie. Using a different spatial strategy to emphasize the global outreach of ecocide, The Happening explicitly refers to specific global cities like New York and Paris. From the opening credits the film warns of the catastrophic ecological consequences of an insatiable capitalist progress by displaying fast–paced clouds fading to black that speak of an overexploited nature, forced to adapt to productive logics. Under this looming inescapable sky, worriless New York citizens jog and walk their dogs on the polished greenery of Central Park until a gust of toxic wind suddenly paralyzes them. Right afterward, they start speaking nonsense, walking backward, committing suicide with whatever the tool they have at hand—an involution to precivilized states as irrational as ecocidal development. Corpses lying on the motorways amidst paralyzed cars paradoxically comment, like father and son pedestrians in The Road, on the dead ends neoliberal paradigms can push global society into—“autopian” promises of endless mobility and progress turned global “autogeddon,” using Ballard’s terms. As this toxic air spreads across borders, humanity at large is threatened: a single species united by risk beyond race, gender or nationality, as theorized by sociologist Ulrich Beck (2009). Stressing the global scale and consequences of climate change, the film ends in the same way as it begins, except for the fact that, this time, the trees that release the deadly toxins are not in New York Central Park but in the Jardins du Louvre, Paris. Apart from establishing connections between distant global cities, The Happening underscores, through the use of space, the radical alienation of capitalist societies from nature. New York shiny glass skyscrapers looming behind the dead bodies on the pavement remind viewers of the faceless

Ecocritical Archaeologies of Global Ecocide in Post-Apocalyptic Films


global corporate agents behind ecological disaster; hostile and insensitive to sustainability criteria. The skyscraper, icon of modern urban progress, stands for the anonymous operative agents holding the threads of capitalist exploitative socioeconomic relations—in the same way as the intricate cable systems that milk cows in Children of Men, mothers’ breasts and slaves’ blood in Mad Max: Fury Road, and tie little boys to machine train parts in Snowpiercer. These buildings, wires, and machines are portrayed as inorganic technologies of human and natural exploitation, whose profits get transfused to the urbanite elites that keep the engine of capitalism running. In turn, suburban areas in The Happening illustrate how nature itself has been turned into another commodity for urban consumers. An abandoned suburban model home full of plastic furniture, manikins and mock home utilities points at the fake promise of happiness made by capitalism to city commuters. Its walls claim to provide an idyllic setting for family life in the suburbia but, actually, serve to briefly host the protagonists as they try to escape from the viral toxin that capitalist progress has provoked. Commuting now away from urban toxic air, bird-eye shots display disoriented urbanite groups fleeing to rural areas. Seen from the sky above their heads as they seek protection in the woods, the tiny human figures of cities and suburbia are resubmitted to nature. Ecocide in the Anthropocene, the film asserts, implies humanity’s suicide rather than the end of the world. Besides dead-end roads, and disorienting urban and suburban spaces, deteriorated maps and landmarks are spatial elements that frequently feature in contemporary ecocritical post-apocalyptic movies. These, too, often suggest the exhaustion of current socioeconomic articulations. A worn-out road chart segmented into different pieces and ordered with handwritten numbers in The Road; computerized cartographies of the areas affected by the toxic disease on the news in The Happening; or a hand map of New York full of red crosses warning of zombie hideouts in I am Legend (Lawrence 2007) can be said to illustrate the illegible and ruined contexts protagonists inhabit. As Kevin Lynch argued, a clear understanding of urban surroundings is fundamental for citizens’ mental balance, especially via those urban landmarks around which societies build their collective myths (1960, 4). Thus, the bombed Brooklyn Bridge in I am Legend, New York’s Central Park riddled with corpses in The Happening, the frozen Statue of Liberty in The Day after Tomorrow, or London’s Trafalgar Square occupied by religious fanatics in Children of Men are ruined iconic spaces that seem to signal the decay of the systemic utopian referents of global capitalist society, and the demise of its conception of progress. In their place, many twenty-first-century apocalyptic films suggest that renovated and sustainable cartographies of the global must be developed. Their archaeologies of global ecocide and the solutions they endorse, though, vary greatly. The following sections explore this diversity


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attending to the representation of natural spaces—wild, pastoral, and polluted—in various contemporary movies. WILD SPACES: MALE SETTLERS, ADRENALINE, AND APARTHEID NEW WORLDS Film visions of uncontainable natural forces such as earthquakes, tsunamis and ice storms, and those presenting wild nature spreading over a depopulated world have proliferated in recent post–apocalyptic movies like I am Legend, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Reeves 2014), The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 (Emmerich 2009), and Oblivion (Kosinski 2013). According to Garrard’s definition of “wilderness” as a metaphor, images of wild nature often convey “the settler experience in the New Worlds—particularly the United States, Canada, and Australia—with their apparently untamed landscapes and the sharp distinction between the forces of culture and nature” (2004, 60). This colonial perspective—tied to patriarchal paradigms—can be observed in many of the aforementioned post–apocalyptic movies, all of which trust male protagonists to lead survival schemes, reconstruct postcatastrophe New Worlds, and adapt to the laws of precivilized wilderness. As early settlers did, Will Smith’s scientist in I am Legend hunts animals and basic provisions in a deserted Manhattan; Jason Clarke’s mediator tries to reach peaceful consensus with speaking monkeys in the forests of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; Dennis Quaid and John Cusack’s fathers in The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, respectively, run, climb and do whatever it takes to save their children from eco-disasters; while Tom Cruise’s patriotic veteran in Oblivion fights alien invaders on a devastated Earth. Whenever zombies, monkeys, aliens, magical circumstances, or natural forces threaten their territory, they try to “resettle” and “re-tame” the land and its resources. Nonetheless, despite sharing this colonial and patriarchal outlook, the representation of wilderness in these movies engages with the Anthropocene in different ways. Dawn of the Planet and The Day After Tomorrow explicitly criticize human violence and capitalist exploitation of nature respectively. On the contrary, I am Legend, Oblivion, and 2012 offer a much more indirect and subtle socioeconomic criticism (if any). As the military scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith), the protagonist in I am Legend, races across Manhattan in his noisy potent car, viewers are invited to share his adrenaline when competing with a lion for a hunt piece in post–apocalyptic wild New York. At home, meanwhile, a treadmill, laptop, camera, television, DVD, radio, and CD player help the scientist and his dog endure their solitude while trying to find a cure to the pandemic using zombie guinea pigs in his basement. Through Smith’s protagonist—a predator, consumer, leader and settler—as well as via the mise-en-scène, this text still praises the consumerist,

Ecocritical Archaeologies of Global Ecocide in Post-Apocalyptic Films


resource-exploiting capitalist culture. Similarly, New York remains a promising capitalist modern metropolis waiting for its recovery (all the more exotic for being devoured by greenery). Though traumatized like the real New York after 9/11, it still holds on to its old utopian landmarks and collective myths: dead neon signs, rusted yellow cabs, an empty McDonalds, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Grand Central viaduct crossing over 42nd street remain magnificent despite their solitude. Even the remaining half of Brooklyn Bridge stands for resistance rather than defeat as Neville pays it a visit every afternoon to send radio messages to potential survivors. Similarly, thrilling car, helicopter and ship rides in 2012, and the many technological gadgets, guns, and automobiles Tom Cruise’s veteran uses in Oblivion display the exciting opportunities provided by ecological apocalypse, rather than condemning the modes of being endorsed by capitalism as causal factors to disaster. Unlike the static shots and predominant silence that accompany the father and son’s slow footsteps in The Road, fast-editing, noisy explosions, and powerful engines make the end of the world feel like a stimulating and challenging video game. Displacing responsibility for catastrophe onto zombie epidemics, alien species, and millennialism in that order, I am Legend, Oblivion, and 2012 present apocalypse as a spectacular and entertaining mission for their male protagonists to solve. Burning the same gasoline that provokes global warming, protagonists, spaces and formal devices in these cinematic representations of apocalyptic wilderness continue to indulge in the permanent movement forward and reinvention that capitalism promises. Remarkably, many of these testosterone-driven, capital-friendly apocalyptic films, which draw on wilderness metaphors for the representation of eco-disaster, advocate for apartheid solutions to the end. Though at first sight concerned with the end of the human species as a whole, the cosmopolitan unity imposed by a globally shared disaster is not necessarily found in the way to salvation. In 2012, for example, amidst rising waters, large ships are prepared for the evacuation of those able to pay one million dollars per seat, with the complacency of political leaders. This manifestly elitist escape, it could be argued, is criticized by the narrative as Cusack’s protagonist eventually manages to open the ships’ gates for others to board on in the last minute. Yet, as the three only surviving “Sister Arks” head towards African land at the end of the movie—under a beautiful sky, amidst receding waters, and accompanied by a hopeful music score—the promising multicultural beginning can be also read as a new ride of colonizers (most of them wealthy and white), ready to settle in Africa like the three ships of Columbus did in the Americas. A hopeful whitish post-apocalypse is supposed to take place on the ground where colonies and apartheid politics have taken lands, lives, and resources away from black natives for centuries. The perspective provided is that of the new settlers arriving, not of the African hosts receiving


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newcomers. Spectators, thus, can wonder whether these will welcome the arrival of the arks as a promising new beginning too, or if European and U.S. thriving will involve, once again, native apocalypse. Likewise, in The Day After Tomorrow Southern countries accept, suspiciously swiftly, to host northern survivors in their warmer climate after a frost in exchange of the debt they need to pay back to the United States. Those who, right before apocalypse, were negated entrance into the land of opportunity, will, paradoxically, rescue and welcome the rich northerners responsible for ecological disaster in the hope that the American Dream of boundless capitalist progress does not overexploit eventually their land too. Thus, post–apocalyptic wilderness is presented in these films as a fascinating New World for male settlers to explore and tame. The male protagonists in I am Legend, The Day After Tomorrow, Oblivion, and 2012 traverse wild landscapes and depopulated apocalyptic settings confident of their ability to make it in the end, as those early settlers traveling to the new worlds who believed in their Manifest Destiny. They lament what is lost, but also experiment exhilaration for the unwritten future ahead for the chosen few left. After apocalypse, international experts may express their views, but the main global actors and leaders remain the same: US pioneers surviving the chaos they have created and leading a new stage of humanity in lands abroad, yet again. The Anthropocene, these films seem to assert, is not a final stage for humanity, at least not for them. As 2012’s taglines asserts, “the end is just the beginning”, their beginning. The inexhaustible drive of modern capitalism remains intact after environmental mayhem, re-emerging from its ashes once and again like Tom Cruise’s endless duplicates in Oblivion. Therefore, although apparently worried about global ecology and social welfare, many of these wild cinematic apocalypses mimic the same neoliberal, ecocidal, patriarchal, and supremacist apartheid perspectives that are blamed for disaster in many other ecocritical apocalyptic films. Unaware of the Other—Mexican, African, women—these films take for granted their ideological stance as beneficial for humanity at large, and eschew ecological accountability by displacing responsibility onto zombies, stars and aliens. Furthermore, they assume there will always be an unspoiled New World in which to settle (or colonize) to start again after apocalypse: Southern America in The Day After Tomorrow; Africa in 2012; a rural oasis in the woods in Oblivion. At the end of I am Legend, a reserve protected by US military forces illustrates this apartheid New World. A young woman and a little boy, guided by God’s voice, arrive safely with the cure to the virus causing the zombie pandemic, which has been discovered by Neville before his death. A high-angle shot shows the reserve secluded area, surrounded by high walls and protecting an inside filled with polished lawn and a Christian church. This secluded space heralds the promise, like 2012’s three Sister Arks and the bucolic cottage in Oblivion, of a fresh start after Deluge, once all risk has

Ecocritical Archaeologies of Global Ecocide in Post-Apocalyptic Films


been contained. After all, these films seem to declare, apocalyptic trauma and rubble have served, as for the Biblical Noah, to purge the Earth from its pollution, clean the slate and start anew with more room for these survivors to devise their new apartheid future—predictably, as patriarchal, unequal and ecocidal as their pre-apocalyptic past. PASTORAL SPACES: NATURAL REFUGES SHELTER FEMINIST POST-PASTORAL TOMORROWS Drawing on Garrard’s definition of pastoral metaphors, pastoral spaces in contemporary apocalyptic films could be said to display nostalgia for an “Old World construction of nature, suited to long-settled and domesticated landscapes” (2004, 60). Far from the exhilarating New Worlds conveyed by images of wilderness analyzed in the previous pages, this pastoral nostalgic vision features prominently in post-apocalyptic films The Survivalist (Fingleton 2015), Into the Forest (Rozema 2015), Time of the Wolf (Haneke 2003), and Interstellar. In these movies, pastoral settings offer protagonists a shelter away from diverse catastrophic events. In their natural refuges, they need to learn survival abilities typical of the Old World Garrard mentions: to make fire with wood in the absence of electricity, to grow their own vegetables and obtain water, to coexist peacefully with neighbors and unexpected visitors without external regulating laws, or to heal themselves and others in the case of injury or illness, for there is no medical center around. Through the learning process of their protagonists, these texts often praise positive habits, behaviors, and social organizational models typical of non–urban small communities—cooperation, solidarity, self-subsistence, or resilience. Against these, in turn, stand the negative features that characterize modern capitalist urban life and citizenship—individualism, alienation, competition, consumerism, or the dependence on polluting technologies for everyday survival. Thus, a “back to basics” situation is imposed by apocalypse and, paradoxically, also welcomed to some extent by some post-apocalyptic films. The return to Old World social and individual customs appears to be, at first, beneficial for ecology and individuals. However, after an initial acclimatization to the pastoral Old World, the protagonists of movies such as The Survivalist, Into the Forest, and Interstellar cannot adapt for long to a pre-civilized natural order that is alien to them. Reaching the point when the pastoral honeymoon comes to an end, the futures anticipated by the films vary, usually suspended in the air after crises related to human conflict or competition for scare resources. In the case of Time of the Wolf, a naked child facing a fire on the railroad questions, at the end of the movie, our ability to reinvent ourselves endlessly; stressing thus the Hobbesian man-is-wolf-to-man logics that pervades the narrative from


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the beginning, when a little boy’s dad is shot by another father who wants to take his house for his own family. On the contrary, the more recent films The Survivalist, Into the Forest, and Interstellar allow more positive readings of the future by tying humanity’s survival and ecological welfare to feminist empowerment quite explicitly. That is, by leaving behind Hobbesian, patriarchal, and ecocidal paradigms in favor of sustainable and egalitarian tomorrows. Unlike the male-centred visions of wild apocalyptic nature previously explored, women in these pastoral apocalyptic films hold the key to the future thanks to their cooperative, non-violent and caring approach to context and others. Hence, hope is kept in the least promising circumstances when strongly tied to a shift in protagonists: from male leaders at the beginning of the narratives to the female surviving pioneers at the end of these films. This is the case in the depopulated Britain of The Survivalist, as mother and newborn reach, right before the end credits, a military camp where a female soldier and another female survivor can be seen. It is also the case of Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood’s resilient sisters at the end of Into the Forest, one helping the other give birth in the woods to a child conceived after being raped. Likewise, Jessica Chastain’s daughter becomes a world-saving scientist in Interstellar, managing to build up a spatial station for humanity to move into before the resources on Earth get exhausted as the movie comes to an end. These films seem to agree with Zylinska in calling for the overcoming of male–driven apocalyptic visions of the Anthropocene—what she calls “Armageddon for the White Man”—through “an alternative micro-vision: the prospect of a feminist counterapocalypse that takes seriously the geopolitical unfoldings on our planet while also rethinking our relations to and with it precisely as relations” (2018, 38). Drawing on Zylinska, it can be argued that the “feminist counterapocalypses” in The Survivalist, Into the Forest and Interstellar are “embracing precarity as a political horizon against which the dream of infinite linear progress is presented as expired,” and “rework[ing] finalism as a structuring condition of being in the world, while also issuing a responsibility for our entanglements with and in it” (45). Interestingly, then, pastoral images characterized by Old World representations of nature, as Garrard claims, do not necessarily involve a return to old-world patriarchal social structures and female roles in contemporary post-apocalyptic films. There are still, of course, examples of pastoral images in post-apocalyptic films that can be suspected of indulging in nostalgic visions of yet untroubled nature and patriarchy simultaneously. These tend to be romanticized images or flashbacks of a female protagonist as mother of a nuclear family in natural surroundings, habitually found in male-driven wilderness post-apocalypses like I am Legend and Oblivion, but also in specific scenes of Children of Men, The Road and The Happening. Nonetheless, The

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Survivalist, Into the Forest, and Interstellar call for a rejection of patriarchal and ecocidal socioeconomic systems through feminist paradigms of sustainable development. Against consumerist, resource-exploiting capitalist paradigms of progress, grounded on individual parameters of wellbeing, survival and freedom—as embodied by the male protagonists in the wilderness film apocalypses mentioned before—the female characters in these pastoral postapocalyptic film scenarios would embody the principles of collective and environmental welfare. Furthermore, the narrative emphasis in The Survivalist, Into the Forest, and Interstellar does not lie on closure and manifest destinies (as in the apartheid new beginnings of male-driven wilderness narratives), but on the exploration of alternatives in open endings and the reformulation of social relations inclusive of difference. In fact, in order to survive, protagonists ultimately need to leave their pastoral refuges back and confront the world outside, rather than stay and bunker themselves inside. Thus, their narratives end with female characters continuing their exploratory journeys ahead. So the return to pastoral Old Worlds has worked as a temporary reform stage of reconciliation with nature; a heterotopian aside to reflect on novel sustainable ways of relation and progress in this world and with others. POLLUTED SPACES: HUMAN ACCOUNTABILITY, THE REBIRTH OF UTOPIA, AND THE POLITICS OF ECOLOGY The need to explore systemic alternatives is especially stressed in contemporary ecocritical post–apocalyptic films that put an emphasis on pollution, highlighting human accountability in the ecocidal process via spaces and narrative elements such as the contaminated crops in Interstellar, the chemically induced ice age in Snowpiercer, the infertility pandemics in Children of Men, or the wastelands owned by eco-blind corporations in Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve 2017). Some of these pollution-centered film apocalypses (especially those belonging to the science–fiction genre), such as Elysium (Blomkamp 2013), Passengers (Tyldum 2016) or Interstellar, seek solutions on other planets or spatial stations, and assume the loss of Earth as a given. But many others reject escapism and out-of-this-world schemes as a utopian way out from ecocide. Beyond settler fantasies on uncontaminated colonies and apartheid solutions, post-apocalyptic pollution narratives such as Children of Men and The Road insist on the need to confront and reform global ecocide in this world. As E. Ann Kaplan sustains (2016), environmental catastrophes in films such as Take Shelter, The Happening, and The Road can be said to provoke a “pretraumatic stress disorder” on viewers that might result in an ecological conscience and action. In the same way, Brereton’s Environmental Ethics


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and Film explores “the precautionary principle” in end–of–the–world films Melancholia and The Tree of Life (Malick 2011), which reflects the urgency “to respond well in advance to upcoming catastrophic changes to our planet” (2016, 186). Likewise, Gerry Canavan reads the end of Snowpiercer, when the train finally stops after a rebellion of the underclass, as a reminder of “a future we might yet choose against, a freight train with a head of steam but one that we can yet derail” (2014, 24). Mark Fisher, in turn, claims that films like The Road act “as a kind of negative inspiration—after living with such horror in fictional form, we feel that we would do anything to avoid it occurring in actuality” (2010, 17). Yet Fisher also argues that films like The Road and Children of Men are “a symptom of the inability to imagine alternatives to capitalism’s entropic, eternal present” (15). Against this idea, rather than serving as negative inspiration alone, ecocritical post-apocalyptic films like The Road and Children of Men, which focus on the polluted spaces of the Anthropocene, can be said to be a symptom of the resurgence of a utopian search for global alternatives. Using the global ecological crisis to expose the need for political agreement beyond national borders, down-to-earth displays of a polluted world near its end give rise to the rebirth of, also globalized, utopian aspirations. Polluted spaces in these films expose that eco-disasters make no racial, class, national or gender discriminations, stressing the urgent need to develop more egalitarian and sustainable socioeconomic systems, cultures, ontologies, and politics at a global scale. Film protagonists like Clive Owen’s Theo in Children of Men and Viggo Mortensen’s father in The Road, who become aware of the need to confront the ecocidal status quo and commit to the future of young generations, perform such utopian reawakening of cosmopolitan, ecological and egalitarian ideals within the least promising of contexts. In the case of Children of Men, the film portrays an undeniably dystopian 2027 London, afflicted by terrorism, pollution, anti-immigration policies and governmental surveillance, as representative of an ecocidal global capitalist society that has turned infertile and is now unable to give birth to future generations. This catastrophic backdrop would decline, at first sight, any connections to utopia. But, against all odds, a pregnant illegal immigrant named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) brings in the possibility of hope to a dying humanity and also to Theo, a pessimist middle-aged Londoner who will manage to help Kee and her baby reach human rights activists in international waters. Similarly, the deserted countryside and highways that father and son wander around in The Road, escaping from human predators and cannibals in their way to the sea, do not herald hopeful expectations. However, father and son will manage to reach the ocean, where they will meet a family willing to take care of the child and grant him the possibility of a future. Even if Theo and the father in the two films will not be able to see the results of their re–encounter with hope (since

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they both die at the end of the movies), their utopian engagement makes possible for the next generation—embodied by the newborn and young son that survive—the formulation of utopian alternatives to apocalyptic global capitalism. That is, after the exhaustion of ecocidal capitalist strategies, and previous to the articulation of concrete alternatives, these ecocritical post–apocalyptic films portray the transitional moment when ecological, egalitarian and cosmopolitan utopian ideals, cultivated by dystopian emergency, surface amidst the ashes of global ecocide. The open sea at the end of both movies—a borderless natural setting where a human rights’ ship named “Tomorrow” appears to rescue Kee and her newborn (Children of Men); and a family welcomes the orphan child on the beach (The Road)—vindicates the rebirth of utopian thinking for the formulation of fairer sustainable futures on Earth. Theo in Children of Men and the father in The Road embody the transformation of values, ideals, and modes of being in the world necessary for the transition from the polluted, border-based and fratricidal apocalyptic status quo to a more sustainable and egalitarian open world to be sketched by future generations. These male protagonists of apocalypse are neither immortal warriors nor brilliant scientists expected to save the world by themselves as those in Oblivion and I am Legend. Instead, these eco-fathers represent the everyday man who has to reform his approach to the world, nature, and others so that improved post-catastrophe futures are feasible. Determined to advance forwards despite the bleak prospects, caring for others beyond their individual welfare, committing to fair causes and willing to reform their attitudes, their self-sacrifice for the sake of a possible better future provides positive inspiration rather than negative as Fisher states. Furthermore, though ecocritical film apocalypses centered on pollution like Children of Men, Interstellar, The Road, The Happening, and Blade Runner 2049 do not sketch concrete socio–economic alternatives to global capitalism, their critical scrutiny of an ecocidal global society can be said to endorse a distinct political shift: the prioritization of the politics of ecology over the politics of economy. Drawing on Jonathan Porritt’s taxonomy of the politics of industrialism vs. those of ecology, this ecological paradigm shift in the political arena would favor, among other principles: flexible visions of the future over determinism, cooperation over individualism, holistic thinking over reductionism, biocentrism over anthropocentrism, feminism over patriarchy, sustainability over economic growth, nonhierarchical over hierarchical structures, and internationalism over the sovereignty of the nationstate (as cited in Brereton 2005, 27–28). Many of these eco-political principles are formally articulated in the aforementioned films through spaces, mise-en-scène and narrative choices. Examples include: the open sea horizons at the end of Children of Men and The Road rejecting determinist views of the future despite the apocalyptic scenarios; the cooperative eco-fathers in


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Children of Men, Interstellar, The Road and The Happening taking care of children and sacrificing for others beyond self-interested individualist and controlling patriarchal attitudes; or bio–centrist portrayals of a deteriorated humanity as part of a deteriorated eco–sphere in all the aforementioned titles, calling for nonreductionist, nonanthropocentric, internationalist solutions to global eco-disaster. Thus, ecocriticism ignites, in these pollution-centred apocalyptic films, utopian imagination for the transformation of ecocidalpatriarchal-apartheid global presents into ecological-egalitarian-cosmopolitan global futures. REFERENCES Balée, Susan. 2007. “Jim Crace’s Violent Verities.” The Hudson Review 60, no. 3 (Autumn): 517–527. Ball, Wes, dir. 2014. The Maze Runner. Los Angeles: Twentieth Century Fox. Beck, Ulrick. 2009. World at Risk, translated by Ciaran Cronin. Cambridge: Polity. Blomkamp, Neil, dir. 2013. Elysium. Culver City: TriStar Pictures. Brereton, Pat. 2005. Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema. Portland: Intellect Books. Brereton, Pat. 2016. Environmental Ethics and Film. London and New York: Routledge. Canavan, Gerry. 2014. “If the Engine Ever Stops, We’d All Die”: Snowpiercer and Necrofuturism.” Paradoxa 26: 41–66. Crutzen, Paul J. 2002. “Geology of Mankind.” Nature 415, no. 23. Cuarón, Alfonso, dir. 2006. Children of Men. Los Angeles: Universal. Emmerich, Roland, dir. 2004. The Day after Tomorrow. Los Angeles: Twentieth Century Fox. Emmerich, Roland, dir. 2009. 2012. Culver City: Columbia. Fisher, Mark. 2010. “The Lonely Road.” Film Quarterly 63, no. 3 (Spring): 14–17. Garrard, Greg. 2004. Ecocriticism. London and New York: Routledge. Gottlieb, Robert. 2007. Reinventing Los Angeles: Nature and Community in the Global City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Gurr, Barbara. 2015. “After the World Ends, Again.” Introduction to Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Post–Apocalyptic TV and Film, edited by Barbara Gurr, 1–13. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Haneke, Michael, dir. 2003. Time of the Wolf. Paris: Les Films du Losange. Hillcoat, John, dir. 2009. The Road. New York: Dimension Films. Joon–ho, Bong, dir. 2013. Snowpiercer. New York: The Weinstein Company. Kaplan, E. Ann. 2016. Climate Trauma: Foreseeing the Future in Dystopian Film and Fiction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Kapur, Jyotsna, and Keith B. Wagner. 2011. Introduction to Neoliberalism and Global Cinema: Capital, Culture, and Marxist Critique, edited by J. Kapur and K. B. Wagner. London and New York: Routledge. Kosinski, Joseph, dir. 2013. Oblivion. Los Angeles: Universal. Lawrence, Francis, dir. 2007. I am Legend. Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers. Lynch, Kevin. 1960. The Image of the City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Malick, Terrence, dir. 2011. The Tree of Life. Century City: Fox Searchlight Pictures. Miller, George, dir. 2015. Mad Max: Fury Road. Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers. Nichols, Jeff, dir. 2011. Take Shelter. Culver City: Sony. Nolan, Christopher, dir. 2014. Interstellar. Los Angeles: Paramount. Reeves, Matt, dir. 2014. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Los Angeles: Twentieth Century Fox. Rozema, Patricia, dir. 2015. Into the Forest. Toronto: Elevation Pictures. Shyamalan, M. Night, dir. 2008. The Happening. Los Angeles: Twentieth Century Fox. Singleton, Stephen, dir. 2015. The Survivalist. Brighton: Bulldog Film Distribution.

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Sontag, Susan. 1966. “The Imagination of Disaster.” In Against Interpretation and Other Essays. London: Picador. Trier, Lars von, dir. 2011. Melancholia. Copenhagen: Nordisk Film. Tyldum, Morten, dir. 2016. Passengers. Culver City: Columbia. Villeneuve, Denis, dir. 2017. Blade Runner 2049. Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers. Willoquet–Maricondi, Paula. 2010. “From Literary to Cinematic Ecocriticism.” Introduction to Framing the World: Explorations in Ecocriticism and Film, edited by P. Willoquet-Maricondi. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. Wollen, Peter. 2002. “Cars and Culture.” Introduction to Autopia. Edited by Peter Wollen and Joe Kerr. London: Reaktion Books. Zylinska, Joanna. 2018. The End of Man: A Feminist Counterapocalypse. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Chapter Fourteen

Biohazard, Eco-Terror, and the Rise of Posthuman Dystopia Re(b)ordering Space to Promote Environmental Ethics in Zal Batmanglij’s The East and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road Paula Barba Guerrero

INTRODUCTION Conversations about the environment have changed over time. And, even if it was not until the end of the twentieth century that the study of natural space became a discipline in its own right, the diverse analyses conducted since the 1970s to fully understand the relation between the human and the natural on the one hand, and “scientific practice and environmental stewardship” (Bryson 2002, x) on the other have broaden the spectrum of approaches and subjects of study in this field. The expansion of ecocritical studies has brought, however, contradictory perspectives to light. Though renowned scholars agree on basic premises, like the marginal position of nature in society or the bleak aftereffects of “the discourse and practices of ‘Big Science’” (Bryson 2002, 159), there are still some concepts that require further examination. One of these notions is, ironically, what constitutes nature. In an attempt to understand the intricacies of intelligibility, recognizability and grievability, Judith Butler (2009) declares that it is only in the social identification of a life as such—that is, in its “conform[ity] to certain conceptions of what life is” (7)—that a life becomes acknowledged, begins to exist. Though applied in a different context, Butler’s definition is at the core of the ecocritical dilemma, for in some contexts nature is deemed a powerless target of 195


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unethical social practice—unintelligible, ungrievable and deeply ignored by society. In other context, nature figures as a reformulated deity, a superior entity that reminds humans of their insignificance and fallibility. Despite this bifurcation, both views converge on a failing relationality between humankind and the natural world. This apparent incompatibility stems from an absence of environmental ethics and green conscience. Whilst the role of denouncing this absence has normally been associated with political activism, it has been in writing that ecocritical studies have truly developed. Literature has sustained and kept in motion “the political side of the movement” (McKibben 2008, xxiii), and not the reverse. Hence, if one can say that the aim of green studies is to find common ground and show “that everything is connected” (McKibben 2008, xxv), I want to argue for the indispensable role of the arts in the development of the movement must also be considered (Gore 2008, xvii), particularly from the critical platform of speculative fiction. After all, it is in the representation and exploration of alternative scenarios that disaster can be dissected and diagnosed to be avoided in the real world. Only by working through plausible terror can we reflect on the dystopian underside of our reality, elicit emotional responses to the damage caused to nature and raise a global environmental consciousness that helps us survive. Sargisson and Levitas (2003) further emphasize this idea, arguing that “the exploration of alternatives is a necessary part of the transformation process” as it fosters change (17). They defend the application of science fiction to denounce a social situation, for in dystopia, for instance, the invisible spaces of environmental violence are relocated to central positions. And it is always easier to recognize and undo unfair political practice when violence is perceptible. This ill relationality that literature exposes is not solely rooted in imagined futures. In the US, the representation of the natural world has been part of the collective identity of the nation, developing an American consciousness that, McKibben (2008) contends, feeds from the representation of an interaction between man and nature (xviii, xxii). From Emerson or Thoreau to contemporary narratives like the ones examined in this chapter, the environment is seen as a pivotal trait of American identity, which implies that we cannot speak of the US and its history without making explicit reference to space and nature. Yet, can we still apply those collective imaginaries in the technological era of capitalism, overproduction and contamination? When we talk about US landscapes, a historical differentiation must be drawn. Ever since America was defined by the romantic trope of “the land of wilderness,” the US landscape has undergone substantial change and widely (ab)used its natural resources. The processes of industrialization and urbanization rendered America a modern country able to compete with other nations, but also decimated its natural supplies turning its landscapes into polit-

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icized cityscapes. As a result, it is not difficult to imagine why contemporary authors would rather define society by its radical opposition to cultures of nature and the way of life they sustain. Instead of interacting with nature, humans in contemporary narratives seem to be utterly detached from it. This distance is introduced as the direct result of a material culture of capitalism and of what Bryson defines as modern scientific patterns that “stress objectivity over subjectivity, control over connection [and] efficiency over ethics” (2002, xi). Humans seem to have lost the ancestral connection to their land and are thus destroying their natural environment indiscriminately. The main explanation for this situation is the representational absence of the natural world within the city that widens the gap between the natural and the human. William Burroughs assures that nature is best studied at home, in the warmth of an intimate abode where familiarity can be established (2008, 168–169). He suggests that it is easier to stimulate relationality in a space that is free from the restrictions of social and urban impositions. Yet, Burroughs’s symbolic house is diametrically opposed to urban ideologies. As David Harvey points out, the very term “city” is bound to “the pursuit of political meanings” (2012, xvi–xvii), which mobilizes ideological imaginaries that deny citizens the possibility to truly experience nature. So the natural within the city only serves an aesthetic purpose. Aside from national parks, nature seems barely incorporated in the American cityscape. It figures as a ghostly presence, hinted in cracks that fissure urban space; spectral lines reclaimed in narrative that threaten to open their way from the soil underneath the pavement and into dystopian eco-terror. Both McCarthy and Batmanglij are aware of this reality and assess the painful aftereffects that result from the detachment from nature in their dystopian narratives. Their stories voice contemporary violence against the ecosystem to re(b)order social space. As such, literature and film become symbolic spaces of representation where those ecological aspects that ought to be revisited in “the outer mimetic (the world outside the text)” (Buell 1995, 93) are echoed and mirrored inside the written/visual world. Narrative representation is but a result of the “interconnections between nature and culture” (Glotfelty 1996, xix), that turn cultural products into a third representational space that challenges impositions of otherness through a posthuman aesthetic to give voice to the marginal. This article is an attempt at disentangling the approaches to environmental ethics of Zal Batmanglij in his film The East (2013) and Cormac McCarthy in his novel The Road (2006). Even as these narratives address very different ecological crises from divergent understandings of nature, both texts analyze the relation between the human and the natural, challenging social bias to promote posthuman ethical behaviors. In both stories, nature has been literally and figuratively contaminated by the chemicals and ideologies that deteriorate and demarcate the land. These unethical, yet unac-


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counted, practices progressively instrumentalize natural space to the extent that the social meaning of relationality gets lost and anti-human behaviors (such as cannibalism or genocide) are endorsed as means to give visibility to a progressive inner and outer deterioration. To illustrate these expansive environmental crises, the authors resort to science fictional devices. The upsurge of dystopian narratives should, therefore, be analyzed through the prism of ecocriticism, for, as Rueckert states, ecological theory is pivotal to “the present and future of the world” (1996, 107). This article thereby delves into the application of eco-dystopian epistemology as an effective means to promote environmental ethics. By narrowing the gap between (science) fiction and reality, these narratives manage to bring humanity closer to natural realms, enabling individuals to fully experience nature and strengthen their bonds with the land they occupy. Both narratives introduce their audiences to an imagined reality that is halfway between posthuman eco-terror and eco-topia. In detaching their protagonists from technology, they offer an ethical means to reconnect with nature, denouncing how techne obliterates and silences physis in our society (Rigby 2002, 152). McCarthy and Batmanglij manage to incorporate nature as a hostipital (Derrida 2000, 210) being, perceived as an avenging entity able to exterminate political constructs (and humanity with it), and as an avenged agentic body holding the promise of societal regeneration. Their dichotomous rendering of natural space in very diverse contexts implies that only in the reconstitution of social spaces and practices can humanity recuperate the necessary values to live in harmony with nature and safeguard its future. Both The Road and The East speak of specific spaces in their titles, of political architectures artificially constructed in real life that imply movement. By naming contemporary violence against the environment, both texts point to the existence of natural graveyards that, drawing on the fictional devices of self-conscious narratives, hold the promise of disaster through a natural ghostly presence awaiting to be avenged or a haunting self–avenged dys-topos that, ironically, calls for hope in the movement through the remnants of civilization. ECO-TERROR IN THE EAST In his film The East Zal Batmanglij posits a principle of control and a false sense of national security directly tied to an improper use of natural resources. His basic premise is that society has been denaturalized—meaning that humans have been distanced from the natural world which they no longer perceive as a space of belonging—and made believe they are protected by national laws that only preserve the lives of a privileged few. Batmanglij’s narrative explores the intersections of class, politics and space

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to reconsider the place of humanity in our contemporary world. A psychology that, according to Logan Hill (2013), is “in service of a fast-paced espionage potboiler.” The film has received harsh criticism because of its representation of the activist persona. Batmanglij’s militants come from an elite background and seem to process childhood trauma through payback activism (Vishnevetsky 2013; Hill 2013). Yet, this chapter hopes to demonstrate that the depiction of these flawed activists/terrorists has more to do with representing the intersections of posthuman subjectivity: the struggles of choosing to avenge the nonhuman, which juxtapose with instinctual human relationality. The director’s decision does not romanticize eco–terror but provides an escape from it. It takes the position that the human and the nonhuman intertwine, affecting the conditions that shape our psyche. His posthuman stand paves the way for an ethical environmentalism that enables the protection of the ecosystem without exerting violence. According to Buell, the main aspiration of social ecology is to “confront and ultimately eliminate capitalism, social hierarchy and the nation-state” (2005, 111). However, Batmanglij knows that the policy of “an eye for an eye” his characters advocate for will eventually be the end of humankind and the environment. He defines terrorists by their dystopian detachment from society, which makes them endorse the same dehumanizing practices as the corporations they attack. These actions provoke an ambivalent feeling of empowerment and pain because their sense of social balance is tinged by a human consciousness that ultimately perceives radical violence as unethical. The fact that this group is able to suffer or identify the absence of ethics in their anti-human acts does not allow for redemption or constitute the posthuman perspective Batmanglij seeks. Rosi Braidotti defines posthuman subjects as those who, “within an eco–philosophy of multiple belongings, [. . .] work across differences and [are] also internally differentiated, but still grounded and accountable” (2013, 49); that is a recognition of our interconnections despite our different frames, but also an affirmation of other forms of agency equally connected to us (Squiers 1995, 128). Batmanglij’s ecoterrorist attacks adhere to the posthuman in the recognition of human and nonhuman subjectivities. Yet, violent practices do not reach posthuman ethics. This is illustrated by the group’s motto, “poison our habitat, we’ll poison yours” (Batmanglij 2013, 00:01:58), which does not prevent corporations from polluting the environment or taking advantage of lower class citizens, but counterattacks with a similar degree of violence in an attempt to force change imposing a law of fear. Because Batmanglij’s goal is to re-establish an authentic sense of ethical selfhood, he figures a way out of this discourse that deepens division through the identity transformation of his female protagonist, Jane. She is his truly posthuman subject. As such, the film revolves around Jane’s experience as a former FBI agent working for the private security sector. She is assigned to


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find, monitor, and become integrated into an anarchist, ecoterrorist cell named “The East.” To accomplish her task, Jane adopts the identity of Sarah Moss, a social outcast, and blends in a peripherical culture she assumes is the activists’ environment. When she locates and joins the group, Sarah is introduced to a ritualistic normativity that governs the cell’s social practice and to which she has to adapt. From sharing food to feeding and nurturing othersstrangers, or even reaching agreement whilst deciding on signs of affection, her new emplacement figures as a secluded space of protection that can ensure reconnection with the natural, but also between humans. Judith Butler maintains that relationality is key in the understanding of the human. She poses that, because of our mortality and fallibility, we are all bound by a mutual sense of vulnerability (2004, 20–23). Butler conceives political ideologies as the cultural construction that breaks our relational ties, as they hierarchize individuals into man-made social structures that hide what we have in common for the profit of a few. She is not the only critic to think that way, though. Leopold, in words of Buell, conceives “community as the precondition to ethics” (2005, 165); that is, the necessary step to work from empathy and understand the other, human or not. These detrimental ideologies, yet, materialize in spaces, which prevents us from building up a sense of collective identity. Within the boundaries of politicized spaces, security is not fully attainable either; reason why Batmanglij questions its reliability in his film. Sarah Bracke suggests that national security has morphed from the need to protect oneself from a direct attack to the establishment of a social structure that minimizes political threats in order “to preserve the integrity of a society, system or self” (2016, 56); capitalism in this case. This transformation can be perceived in the urban distribution of the city, which, in the film, detaches Jane from the environment and deems contamination irrelevant for her. Yet, the longer she stays in nature, the more she begins to waver between a sense of professional duty and her newly acquired ethical responsibility. Characterized by rigid scientific patterns that prioritize objectivity and profit to subjectivity and emotion (Bryson 2002, xi), capitalism is presented in The East as the source of social disregard protected by a mirage of national security. Yet, who is safe in/from the nation-state? The French theorist Michel de Certeau argues that our movements within cities are characterized by blindness (1984, 93). There are a series of political practices hidden in the urban, which we do not perceive. De Certeau considers that these invisibilities compose a discourse on their own and result in “a manifold story [. . .] shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces [that,] in relation to representation, [render the city] daily and indefinitely other” (93, emphasis mine). The otherness ascribed to urban space in the film can be interpreted through Burroughs’s understanding of the traveler’s experience of nature. Burroughs suggests that “[t]he traveler sees little of

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the Nature that is revealed to the home-stayer” because (s)he cannot establish an intimate liaison with it (2008, 168–69). The ideologies inscribed in urban space turn the citizen into a perpetual outsider with regard to nature. They introduce him/her as one of Burroughs’s travelers, who, ironically, does not have to move to experience the alienation presupposed of migration, the sense of non-belonging. And, ironically, whilst the migrant in the US cannot root in urban space, the citizen is not expected to do so in the natural. The reason why the citizen is likely to be detached from the environment suppressing organic relationality is that efficiency and profit are the priorities for unbridled capitalism. Being used to this urban lifestyle, Jane finds it difficult to adapt to a natural culture. During her first night at The East’s enclave, she is asked to eat without her hands. The ritualistic nature of this action serves to underline the difference between the two cultural structures. Sarah’s success depends on her ability to feed another person while trusting that she will be equally fed. At that moment, this idea that does not even cross her mind because she is used to the individualizing ethos of life in the city. She does not ask for help or even consider the possibility of eating as a joint activity. Instead, she attempts to dine on her own and ends up feeling mocked and humiliated when the rest show her that, to eat, she must be fed. Relationality is experienced through discomfort as it reminds her of her own physical vulnerability. Whilst in the city the individual feels driven by an urge of professional promotion tied to the political structures of the nation-state—a need to prove oneself better than the rest, a desire to possess material goods—in nature the hierarchies of material culture are dissolved, forcing humans to face those traits (fallibility, fragility) that they are normally allowed to ignore. Thus, although Sarah’s performance is well put together, her involvement in social and urban lifestyles betrays her in nature. Not only is she fully unaware of the workings of authentic human bonding, but she can barely stand the natural practices that define this ecosystem. She is reluctant to eat food taken from the trash and defenseless when being bathed by others. Sarah accesses her own vulnerability as she enters the natural environment only to develop a resistant sense of environmental ethics defined by her embraced fallibility. Social and spatial boundaries are re(b)ordered alike. Despite her initial rejection of community life, Sarah’s perception shifts progressively as she assimilates natural space as a home. In the film, the acquisition of an environmental consciousness goes hand in hand with the personal, intimate experience of the environment (Burroughs 2008, 168–69). It is in the undoing of the urban structures ingrained in the practice of our everyday life that characters reformulate their identities. As Judith Butler suggests, “if nothing acts on me against my will or without my advanced knowledge, then there is only sovereignty, the posture of control over the property that I have and that I am” (2016, 24); yet, if I am forced to face my


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own vulnerability and embrace it, not as an annulling trait that causes shame, but as a shared powerful bond with those surrounding me—human or not, then, my own fragility can become the driving force behind a new sense of ethics and agency. The acquisition of ethical conduct is thus shaped by the reconfiguration of individual and group identities. Whilst urban space in the film is defined by technology efficiency and profit. In nature the slow-paced lifestyle makes Sarah reconsider her own role in society. City dynamics seem to be designed not to allow citizens to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature. Instead, they offer controlled zones of spatial relationality, such as parks, wherein a tamed version of mythical American wilderness can be grasped as the passerby wanders. Sarah’s reluctance to take part in certain natural conventions hence points to her unfamiliarity with the natural environment. Sarah’s first experience with “The East” is characterized by a sense of inbetweenness, a sense of non-belonging that scholars like Victor Turner connect to a ritual transition (1969, 25). Located in an identity threshold, Batmanglij’s protagonist wavers between two worlds defined by opposed cultural practices. These lifestyles correspond to her alter egos. Both Jane and Sarah coexist in the same body, struggling for the survival of the politics they represent. As she completes her “rite of passage” and naturalizes as part of “The East,” Sarah begins to feel at home living an ethical life with her new anti-corporate community, but her understanding of violence does not change. She wishes to protect her new home without reproducing the domination tools of the nation-state. How to demand accountability is one of the central themes in the film. “It’s easy when it’s not your home” (Batmanglij 2013, 00:00:49), informs Ellen Page’s voice over when the film begins. It is easier to harm that which remains unknown, other. Without empathy, there seems to be no room for ethics in society. Yet, if empathy is rooted in a sense of identification, how can Batmanglij develop a theory of emotional attachment with the environment? As a filmmaker, he wants to show the ways in which a reconnection with our ancestral relation with nature can build modern structures that are constructive for the ecosystem (Steward 1995, 228–29). To do so, Batmanglij fights the emotional indifference promoted by urban anti–relational practices introducing kinship ties born in the struggle to protect nature. Terrorism avenges all those bodies that get contaminated and die in the film, be they natural, animal or human. This bond represents a source of conflict because it contradicts the principles of capitalism. Urban space fosters social practices that make humans believe they are acting towards better conditions of spaces they occupy. Yet, because environmental damage is not always visible or close in spatial terms, the capitalist notion of human collaboration is postulated as a symbolic trap:

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“your mind and your body taken hostage” in the city (Batmanglij 2013, 01:03:11). Batmanglij develops this theory by reflecting on our tendency to speak about positive human action in public. He shows how the media reaffirms the political claim that the unethical and highly detrimental outcomes of contamination are not to fear, since pollution is under control. He presents cultural stability through the forged idea of national security. Because pollution is in many cases invisible, society holds these beliefs as truth, further participating in the destruction of natural ecosystems. Whilst the environment tends to be seen as the sole victim of human (in)action, Batmanglij’s film hints at the hazards it poses for humans too. Ideological urban practice restricts the nature of the human as much as it limits the connection between humans and nature. As such, the initial voiceover monologue gains a double meaning. When speaking about the home, characters are not only protecting nature as the symbolic shelter of other biological species or, as we discover later on, referring to the actual houses on poor neighborhoods that get polluted by contaminated natural resources such as water, but also defining the outdoors as their homely habitat. In siding with nature, “The East” becomes an agentic avenger that seeks retribution for the violence sustained against the environment. Sean Eagan defines their deep environmentalism as “the belief that human beings are just an ordinary member of the biological community” (1996, 3), thus merging the understanding of nature as a passive victim with the myth of American wilderness as a home that contains natural life forms. Although this mythical conception does not seem to pose a threat to societal wellbeing, the violent practices that result from it do. Eagan stresses that deep ecology is not simply about protecting the environment or challenging the status quo, but about “recreating” wilderness by force (3). He maintains that ecoterrorism employs violence and fear to draw public attention to the destruction of the environment (9–10); a reactionary spirit not different from previous forms of terrorism (Walklate 2014). In terms of ethics, an environmental consciousness should not put the lives of others at risk. It should seek sustainability and escape repressive ideologies. Batmanglij questions the motivations of these activists and opposes them to Sarah’s. While the group acts out of grief or anger, Sarah is moved by a desire to convince others of the detrimental effects of our current lifestyle and the healing possibilities of an ethical and sustainable life. In The East, Zal Batmanglij sets the conditions for his audience to understand “what we’re all capable of if we put our minds to it” (Batmanglij qtd. in Schmidlin 2013). He calls for an ethical relationality that allows us to reconnect with one another and with the planet. This film is an intimation of the dangers that lurk in the shadows of capitalism, a reflection on our current behavior designed for us to reconsider the aftermath of political violence and the consequences of destructive responses. In The East those responsible for


Paula Barba Guerrero

the pollution of our environment are held accountable. Yet, those who pay it forward suffer the consequences too. It is only in the deconstruction of hierarchical thinking and in the development of a true link with nature and a sense of ecological ethics that the detrimental effects of our actions can be mitigated giving way to nature-inclusive architectures, a reconstruction of the self, and healthy relationship with the non-human. ECO-TOPIA IN THE ROAD Whereas Batmanglij’s narrative explores the negative aftereffects of human action seeking ethical accountability, McCarthy’s The Road takes it a step further and jumps into a dystopian future wherein a natural disaster has ended life as we know it. Humanity—or what is left of it—has had to rearrange the social conditions that govern space, giving in to chaotic redistributions riddled with bloodshed, dehumanization, unethical ontologies and extreme politics of survival. Rape, cannibalism and murder surface in the novel in an attempt to name the utmost hostility the protagonists face. While The East introduced anti-human practices (ecoterrorism) as a means to balance the corruption of capitalism, The Road undertakes the same process to showcase the ends to which humanity might go if we continue to lose touch with nature. In this novel, McCarthy tells the story of a man and his son who wander around the ruins of civilization led by hope and a self-preservation drive. The narrative introduces the dystopian landscape in media res, without any explanation of why or how humanity turned to wreckage; only that a “long shear of light” and “a series of concussions” took place (McCarthy 2006, 45) hinting at ecological disaster. Whilst in The East nature ought to be avenged by humans, in The Road, nature has empowered itself. It was “a thing which could not be put back. Not made right again” (241). The difference in the understanding of natural agency leads to an opposite disposition of identity: whilst in The East Sarah, who came from the city, embodied posthumanism after deconstructing spatial politics, in The Road the boy becomes the bearer of posthuman morals, even as he does not connect with prior forms of political order. The environmental catastrophe does not seem unexpected in the novel. According to the man, people made arrangements for the future, planned for the unknown as if they could control it. The collective sense of hybris implied in the description of the events points to the erroneous belief that nature is a passive being. The future, which is defined in spatial terms, did not take their foreseeing into account when collapsing into disaster. The man was aware of this misconception of the natural world, whose powers he did not underestimate. In identifying a supernatural presence able to shake every-

Biohazard, Eco-Terror, and the Rise of Posthuman Dystopia


one’s lives, the man hints at the agentic potential of nature, which, in this narrative, reacts and takes revenge for the damage inflicted. In its act of retaliation, nature exterminates the urban, political constructs that harmed the Earth, leaving humans to their own devices in the midst of urban debacle. The Road shifts the collective understanding of cities, where human paths cross, into loci of danger, the places in which visibility equals a mortal threat. In space is where we root and establish our sense of identity. We define ourselves partly by the places we occupy. Yet, in McCarthy’s narrative the home figures as an ambivalent site that holds the memories of an irrecoverable past and the threats of a treacherous present. When the man insists that they should go visit his childhood home, the child feels unsettled. Born after disaster, he does not share positive memories of that (or any) space. His instinctive reaction speaks of a detachment in terms of time and space. For him, the childhood home represents a hazardous zone, a temporal threshold that triggers his father’s nostalgia, with which he cannot connect (McCarthy 2006, 22). The boy’s emotional apathy for this faraway space seems justifiable. Just as the previous generation was rooted in the social distribution of produced political space, the boy is connected to dystopian nature. The road and the movement South are his idea of a home, his raison d’être. Facing uncertainty and desperation, the protagonists’ reaction is to reassure their wellbeing. They repeatedly ask each other questions that relate to their physical condition in an attempt to provide a sense of continuity, of purpose to their movement. As Edenfield (2012) affirms, “in their journey south, along the old highways marked still on the pieces of the map they bring along [. . .], the father invents and conducts ritual after ritual, keeping alive the domestic habits that define them and separate them from the savages” (589). Out of love and responsibility, the father creates a mythical imaginary to help the boy make sense of his reality. As such, the horror they both witness is only counterbalanced by the certainty that they “carry the fire” and as a result “nothing bad [can] happen to [them]” (McCarthy 2006, 70). In The Road, the fire the characters speak of represents a set of morals and ethical behaviors that they implement as they move. Their relationship with others is built in direct opposition to the anti–human acts practiced by the rest. Still, just like The East, The Road introduces the family unit as a group close to posthuman ethics, but still dependent on violent practices (survival tactics in this case). Both parents speak of murder, suicide and count their bullets, awaiting the moment when they have to use them. Unlike the man, though, the woman cannot bear the anguish of the dystopian frame, which re(b)orders urban spaces into battlefield scenarios. After spending “a hundred nights [. . .] debating the pros and cons of self destruction” (McCarthy 2006, 49), the day comes when she carries her promise into effect. Suicide is presented in this novel as the only humane exit from reality. This is because


Paula Barba Guerrero

social dehumanization has reached a point of no return that leaves those who refuse to surrender to extreme violence and cannibalism with no choice but to run or kill themselves. The narrative mimics the dynamics of a “hide and seek” game to underline the moral devastation the protagonists face. “Sooner or later,” the mother explains, “they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. They’ll rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won’t face it” (McCarthy 2006, 48). Though he does not kill himself, the man also shares this desperation. The connection he establishes with the world surrounding him is that of a hostage. He only carries on for his son, a self-destructive act of love that reveals a generational behavioral transformation when compared to the boy’s hope (2006, 229). Whilst the father wishes to remember, to “freeze frame[s]” (McCarthy 2006, 16) in a cinematic recording of the spaces he inhabits, the son wants to solve the riddle of McCarthy’s mysterious land. Through the stories his father tells him and because he is not influenced by social structures, the son grows to become “his father’s moral compass. [And] though the evils that they encounter threaten to pull the father away from his inherent sense of justice [to leave ethics behind and kill others], his son’s genuine ability to love and sympathize keeps the man morally grounded” (Edenfield 2012, 583–84). In the figure of the boy McCarthy redefines a new sense of posthuman ethics that knows no barriers or hierarchies. The son reacts organically attempting to establish new relationships with other people who he hopes might “carry the fire” too. Whilst holding the promise of societal regeneration through the boy’s posthuman ethics, The Road also speaks of accountability. It repeatedly hints at the idea of another future, refiguring space into a distant land for the boy to walk, root and build a home into; it speaks of hope in the midst of loss, suspense and fear. Yet, this novel also points to answerability. Like Carson (2002), McCarthy wonders who is to blame in the destruction of the world, a question that challenges his readers’ preconceptions guiding them throughout the story. The man’s memories of the past, his desire to avoid contact with others and his moments of doubt point to the old morals of the city, which do not give way to empathy and community because they are based on distance and hierarchies. McCarthy’s The Road represents the struggles of a broken family unit that has to survive in the conditional welcome the natural world grants them (Derrida 2000, 210). Likewise, it accounts for the past suffering of a landscape that has to be empowered to explore alternative scenarios (Otto 2014, 184) that can make the reader reconsider his role in real life. The Road opens new paths of examination when considering posthuman relationality. It illustrates a new set of dynamics between the human and the nonhuman aimed at shocking readers and raising awareness on the dangers of a violence and politics no longer unilateral. For McCarthy nature can (and will) respond to abuse, threatening the lives of any human survivor with

Biohazard, Eco-Terror, and the Rise of Posthuman Dystopia


spatial instability and adverse weather conditions that hinder survival. As such, his novel aims to make readers reflect on the dangers of our unethical behaviors by exerting violence against humanity, instead of nature. As a literary ecotopia, The Road “must be measured by its ability to affect us” (Otto 2014, 184). This novel readjusts the structural dominion of the nation–state giving way to a chaotic wilderness where the only law is the natural one. Characters are led by their organic reactions, which disaggregates, even more, the social pattern of a community. Instead of coming together to find shelter, the characters in The Road do not perceive their vulnerability as an equalizer (Butler 2004, 20), but as a burden that leaves them on a perpetual state of panic and alert. In this novel, only true relational bonds (family ties) survive the social detachment, absence of empathy and horror of this new world. Yet, there is hope for the future, for the child “carries the fire” of a new ethical paradigm that could fix humanity. The truth about McCarthy’s future is only hinted in the novel, though, a denouement between fact and fiction whose outcomes will be discovered down the road. CONCLUSION: NAMING ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS Both Batmanglij’s The East and McCarthy’s The Road question the ethical paradigms of our time to bring forth imagined forms of endangerment that threaten human life as we know it. In doing so, they establish parallelisms between the conditions in which nature subsists and the odds we may face someday if we continue to allow indiscriminate pollution of natural environments. In our contemporary world, nature has become a cannibalized Other, commodified by urban political practices (Manzanas and Benito 2017, 84). We have lost our relation with it and no longer bear witness to its destruction. Knowingly, these authors connect the aftermath of ecological damage to a series of anti-human practices, hinting at ways in which violence could escalate. In a way, both stories could even be read together, one the follow-up of the other. If so, both narratives would respond to a crisis in witnessing that, Kozol (2014) maintains, needs to be visually perceived and acknowledged. In her own words, “without visuality, and without spectatorship, how can representations acknowledge the ways in which trauma is not a universal experience but rather occurs in historically specific contexts [. . .] that produce differences foundational to such violences?” (57). Batmanglij and McCarthy are aware of the need to go beyond anthropocentric ethics, to represent a posthuman behavior that brings to the fore the horrors of environmental violence and a sense of hope. In the characters of Sarah and the boy, these authors sow the seeds of change for their audience to reconsider the invisible truths they normally choose to ignore. In setting new boundaries and giving visibility to


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the dangers of urban space through dystopia, McCarthy and Batmanglij open up symbolic spaces that represent what is hidden to remind us that, though the threat is great, it is in our hands to turn the tables. The future is yet not written. We are still in time to break the cycle and right the wrongs of the past. REFERENCES Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity. Bracke, Sarah. 2016. “Bouncing Back: Vulnerability and Resistance in Times of Resilience.” In Vulnerability in Resistance, edited by Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti, and Leticia Sabsay, 52–75. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Bryson, Michael. 2002. Visions of the Land. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. Buell, Lawrence. 1995. The Environmental Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 2001. Writing for an Endangered World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ———. 2005. The Future of Environmental Criticism. Oxford: Blackwell. Burroughs, John. 2008.”Nature near Home.” In American Earth, edited by Bill McKibben, 168–71. Michigan: Literary Classics of the United States. Butler, Judith. 2004. Precarious Life. New York: Verso. ———. 2009. Frames of War. New York: Verso. ———. 2016. “RethinkingVulnerability and Resistance.” In Vulnerability in Resistance, edited by Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti, and Leticia Sabsay, 12–27. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Carson, Rachel. 2002 [1962]. Silent Spring. New York: Mariner Books. De Certeau, Michel. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: The University of California Press. Derrida, Jacques. 2000. “Hostipitality.” Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 5 (3): 3–18. Eagan, Sean P. 1996.”From Spikes to Bombs: The Rise of Eco–Terrorism.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 19: 1–18. Edenfield, Olivia Carr. 2012. “A Different Kind of Love Story: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.” In A Companion to the American Novel, edited by Alfred Bendixen, 582–597. Oxford: Blackwell. Gore, Al. 2008. “Foreword.” In American Earth, edited by Bill McKibben, xvii–xx. Michigan: Literary Classics of the United States. Glotfelty, Cherryl. 1996. “Introduction: Literary Studies in an Age of Environmental Crisis.” In The Ecocriticism Reader, edited by Cherryl Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, xv–xxxvii. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Harvey, David. 2012. Rebel Cities. London: Verso. Hill, Logan. 2013. “Why Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’ Is Fascinating and Illogical at the Same Time.” IndieWire, May 28. https://www.indiewire.com/2013/05/why-zal-batmanglijs-theeast-is-fascinating-and-illogical-at-the-same-time-38064/. Kozol, Wendy. 2014. Distant Wars Visible. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Levitas, Ruth and Lucy Sargisson. 2003. “Utopia in Dark Times: Optimism/Pessimism and Utopia/Dystopia.” In Dark Horizons, edited by Raffaela Baccolini and Tom Moylan, 13–28. London and New York: Routledge. Manzanas, Ana Mª and Jesús Benito. 2017. Hospitality in American Literature and Culture. London: Routledge. McCarthy, Cormac. 2006. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf McKibben, Bill. 2008. “Introduction.” In American Earth, edited by Bill McKibben, xxi–xxxi. Michigan: Literary Classics of the United States.

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Otto, Eric C. 2014. “‘The Rain Feels New’: Ecotopian Strategies in the Short Fiction of Paolo Bacigalupi.” In Green Planet, edited by Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson, 179–191. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press. Rigby, Kate. 2002. “Ecocriticism.” In Introducing Criticism at the 21st Century, edited by Julian Wolfreys, 151–178. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Rueckert, William. 1996. “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism.” In The Ecocriticism Reader, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, 105–123. Athens: University of Georgia Press. Schmidlin, Charlie. 2013. “Director Zal Batmanglij Talks: Making ‘The East,’ Harnessing the Power of Young Filmmakers and Creating an Anarchist Collective.” IndieWire, May 30. https://www.indiewire.com/2013/05/director-zal-batmanglij-talks-making-the-eastharnessing-the-power-of-young-filmmakers-creating-an-anarchist-collective-97475/. Squiers, Susan. 1995. “Reproducing the Posthuman Body: Ectogenetic Fetus, Surrogate Mother, Pregnant Man.” In Posthuman Bodies, edited by Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston, 113–132. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Stewart, Frank. 1995. A Natural History of Nature Writing. Washington: Shearwater Books. The East. 2013. Directed by Zal Batmanglij, performances by Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard, Patricia Clarkson, and Brit Marling, Fox Searchlight Pictures. Turner, Victor. 1969. The Ritual Process. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Vishnevetsky, Ignaty. 2013. “The East.” RoberEbert, June 9. https://www.rogerebert.com/ reviews/the-east-2013. Walklate, Sandra. 2014. Contradictions of Terrorism. London: Routledge.

Chapter Fifteen

Another Inconvenient Truth Hollywood, the Myth of Green Capitalism Víctor Junco

In a recent article, “Eco-Friendly Practices in the Film Industry,” journalist Cristina Sáez argues that “an ecological transformation of the film industry” is taking place right now, concluding that “[t]he cinema industry is going green” (Sáez 2019). The ecological transformation she makes reference to seems to be limited, according to her text, to “small gestures” such as the elimination of disposable plastic bottles, food donation, or the use of hybrid cars and LED lighting. Sáez quotes Luz Molina, a Spanish lawyer involved in Green Screen, a European Union project aiming to reduce the carbon footprint of European film and TV production, to confirm the importance of these small gestures: “Now increasing numbers of films are going green. The reason? Perhaps fashion, perhaps marketing or perhaps greater awareness. Deep down it doesn’t matter whether it is a way of cleaning up your image or because you want to look after the planet, because if you do it, you are contributing, and every little [bit] counts” (qtd. in Sáez). Molina poses an interesting question about the reasons behind this greening of the film industry, and her answer successfully encompasses different attitudes identifiable in corporations nowadays. On the one hand, going green has become in recent years “a status symbol.” Individuals and part of the environmental movement alike have engaged in a “greening” process that enhances their ecological cachet while not disturbing any fundamental pillar of the capitalist system. This “lazy environmentalism” or “armchair activism,” to use Heather Rogers’s expressions, does not challenge the system or implies huge sacrifices. Why do we need to adopt a Spartan stance, “when saving the planet can be fun and relatively easy?” (Rogers 2010, 4). On the other hand, once they understood that the concept of sustainable growth had 211


Víctor Junco

definitely become an axiom of twenty-first-century capitalism, large corporations decided it was finally time to embrace green policies. As Hartmut Berghoff explains: “When everybody wants to be green, no big corporation can be not green. Eco-capitalism is a marketing claim and a fashion” (Berghoff 2017, 27). Film corporations are no exception to this recent trend to “go green.” But what do we mean when we say that “the cinema industry is going green”? Are audiences getting the chance to watch more environmentally themed productions? Are Hollywood blockbusters such as The Day After Tomorrow or Avatar examples of the greening of the US film industry? To what extent do they help raise public awareness of the dangers represented by climate change and the overexploitation of natural resources? Do their plots encourage spectators to get involved in any form of environmental activism? This paper examines the ways in which the acolytes of savage capitalism, after causing unprecedented environmental damage to our planet, have launched an eco-friendly brand—Green Capitalism—that falsely promises to restore the balance between nature and consumption. The chapter also focuses on recent environmentally themed Hollywood productions in order to analyze how they deal with current threats such as climate change or the depletion of natural resources, and if they help raise public awareness and encourage spectators to engage in ecological activism. Eco-capitalism may be a recent concept, but the ideas surrounding it came into existence with the appalling industrialization of the nineteenth century. It was at that moment of rapid increase in production and consumption that the advocacy of a more environmentally–friendly economic system was born. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ecological goods entered the market. The notion of “eating healthy” was promoted by large corporations that, in many instances, had a long record of polluting performance. This call for organic food was not the norm, of course, but the exception; “islands of green capitalism during the industrialization period” (Berghoff 2017, 19). While some of the biggest food corporations (Kellogg’s, Cadbury) attended the new calls for a healthy diet, a large percentage of the population was not able to enjoy such a healthy diet (nor an unhealthy one, in many instances). Social inequalities became even more painfully visible during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In her recent Dust Bowl of Empires: Imperialism, Environmental Politics, and the Injustice of “Green” Capitalism, Hannah Holleman argues that information about the effects of the economy upon nature and the scientific capacity to deal with those effects were available during the first decades of the twentieth century. What has been missing is the political will to tackle the problem. An efficient strategy of attack— Holleman suggests—should question the peaceful coexistence between capitalism and ecological balance. However, the political authorities and, to a

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large extent, the leaders of the environmental movement, have systematically taken the inevitability of capitalism for granted. In exchange, they have introduced, out of thin air, a sweetened version of capitalism, nicknamed “green capitalism,” or “eco-capitalism” (Holleman 2018, 74–75). Later, the postwar economic boom of the 1950s would dramatically increase ecological damage in the United States. Production and consumption went hand in hand to avoid a new recession after the war. The economic prosperity of the decade was achieved at the expense of the natural ecosystems. Together with this new cycle of unlimited growth and ecological damage came a growing political and ecological awareness that would eventually crystallize in the work of environmental activist Rachel Carson. Silent Spring was published in 1962, and soon inspired the beginning of a new grassroots environmental movement in the United States. Carson’s attacks on the chemical industries and the use of certain pesticides—mainly DDT—were received with manifest hostility by the main chemical corporations, but with strong support from prominent voices within the scientific community. Under the influence of a growing ecological awareness in the nation, the first Earth Day was celebrated and the Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970. Hollywood was not immune to the environmental concerns of the times. In the unusual science-fiction film Soylent Green (Fleischer 1973), starring prominent actors Charlton Heston, Edward G. Robinson, and Joseph Cotten, the audience is presented a dystopian New York City devastated in 2022 by industrialization, pollution, and overpopulation. In the opening credits sequence, a frenetic montage of images and sounds is used to introduce the audience to the perceptible effects of industrialization in the United States. Life in the city is unbearably inhumane, with people hanging around in the streets in a desperate search for food, and crowding in piles as they try to sleep in stairs inside and outside dirty and abandoned buildings. Scientists are made responsible in the voiceover narration for polluting the natural resources caused by the greenhouse effect. Interestingly enough, the film makes clear from the beginning that the poverty-ridden dystopia does not include all citizens of New York: a privileged class has access to luxury items—meat, whiskey, running water, soap, perfume—the younger generations have never tasted or dreamed of. That class is formed by businessmen, lawyers, politicians, and some other acolytes—including alienated and oppressed young women who are hired as concubines and considered as “furniture”—connected to the powerful corporation that, taking advantage of the shortage of resources, sells the “soylent” of the film’s title: the new industrial manna that feeds the other hungry and deprived forty million citizens of New York. The plot revolves around NYPD detective Frank Thorn, as he tries to resolve the murder of William R. Simonson, a prominent member of the Soylent Corporation. By the end of the film, Thorn and the audience horribly


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learn that the soylent green is manufactured with the corpses of dead people, turning the survivors into unknowing cannibals. Seriously wounded, Thorn reveals his discovery to his chief, begging him to make it public as he is taken by paramedics. That is no reassuring ending at all, since we suspect that Thorn’s boss is a puppet controlled by the state governor and the Soylent Corporation, and we, like Thorn, presume that the truth will not be revealed. Soylent Green is an extremely disturbing film, with its rather explicitly visual portrayal of environmentally agonizing cities and citizens, poverty, classism, pollution, political and business corruption, cannibalism, and euthanasia. But it remains an oddity at a time when the challenging and shortlived New Hollywood was already beginning its inevitable decline, consumed by the new blockbusters in the shape of sharks and spaceships. The new conservatism in the Hollywood of the 1980s had its correlation in the social and political temper of the United States after Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980. The environmental movement, which had achieved some important victories in the previous decade, would also adopt a much less radical, more pro–market approach in the new conservative era. The “extreme 1980s makeover” of much of the environmental movement that Naomi Klein describes in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Klein 2014, 204) helped them establish lucrative alliances with philanthropists and big corporations eager to “greenwash” their image at a time when the notion of “sustainable growth” was becoming firmly established in the United States and elsewhere. The tendency steadily continued in the 1990s, when the Alliance between Big Business and Big Green was fully implemented. The new scenario of the 1990s depicted by Klein helps us understand the politics that support Green Capitalism, with its insistence on individual performances and the untouchability of the status quo (Klein 2014, 213). Thus, in collusion with a majority of the Big Green groups, Corporate America was by then ready to embrace the process of greening the nation and, by extension, the whole world. In Green Capitalism: The God that Failed (Smith 2016), Richard Smith traces their role in the substitution of the confrontational environmentalism of the 1970s by a new pro-corporate brand: “In rejecting the antigrowth ‘limits’ approach of the first wave of environmentalism in the 1970s, pro-market, pro-growth ‘green capitalism’ theorists of the 1980s and ’90s (. . .) argued that green technology, green taxes, green labeling, ecoconscious shopping and the ‘like’ could align profit-seeking with environmental goals” (Smith 2016, 51). Going green became a popular tendency in the early twenty-first century, and Hollywood films also played their part in this accelerated—and rather fragile—ecological education of the masses as to the dangers of global warming and climate change. The feature film The Day After Tomorrow (Emmerich 2004) and the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (Guggenheim 2006) proved influential in raising public awareness on the topic.

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The Day After Tomorrow is a science-fiction film in which a global superstorm—suddenly produced by climate change—provokes a new ice age in the Northern hemisphere, killing millions. The film’s use of computer-generated special effects proved effective in sparking a debate about the consequences of global warming. It was, in fact, the first time a Hollywood blockbuster explicitly dealt with climate change as its main topic. In spite of its Hollywoodesque unfolding of computer-generated technology, some relevant environmental organizations and part of the scientific community applauded the film’s political message and its role in putting the threat of global warming into images directed at a wide audience. Greenpeace International, for example, defended the film’s contribution to the debate around global warming, stating that “[i]t’s one thing to dismiss the film as fiction. It’s quite another to deny the fact of the problem it’s trying to illustrate. Fiction is a legitimate part of civilization’s radar, and has a valid place in shaping a democratic debate” (qtd. in Von Burg 2019, 16). The scientific inaccuracies of the film are, to a large extent, expected and even admissible in a pop culture pseudo-environmental product like The Day After Tomorrow, but it is difficult to see how the film could have had a more lasting effect upon audiences. In spite of conservative reaction against it, the truth is that the film does very little to turn spectators into staunch environmental activists. Action against climate change in the film comes basically from the theories of Jack Hall, a US paleoclimatologist who does not hesitate to ridicule the climate change denier vice president of the United States (“My son knows more science than him”) or to drive and walk from Pennsylvania to New York in the worst storm in centuries to rescue his son. In the end, the film is the story of a superdad who saves his son and a superscientist who, against all odds, challenges a superstorm and saves the world. The Day After Tomorrow was co-written, produced and directed by Roland Emmerich, the man responsible for Independence Day, the 1996 film in which Will Smith was able to save the whole world from an alien invasion with just a computer virus. So we cannot be surprised at the lack of serious political commentary in The Day After Tomorrow, or the absence of a collective environmental activism. If the environmental action is confined to a couple of smart guys, the message we and the system get is moderately disturbing and finally “reassuring”: we will always find the right guy to correct the myopia of a skeptical vice president and save the world from extinction. In their analysis of the film, Salvador and Norton precisely argue that the heroic figures of the film may satisfy the audience’s expectations, but fail to elicit a committed response in their rejection of collective activism (Salvador and Norton 2011, 59). The ending of the film also points toward public demobilization, since, in spite of all the cataclysm and the dramatic toll, our peace of mind is restored once the hero has averted the total collapse of the planet. Even the previously


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skeptical vice president has learned the lesson and turned into a committed eco-warrior president by then. Just in case some in the audience were still shivering inside after watching so much snow and devastation, the film ends with a sequence on the International Space Station, where two astronauts contemplate a breathtaking image of Earth, apparently calm after the (super) storm. The disturbing contrast between the frozen Northern hemisphere and the green South is nuanced by the unexpectedly optimistic comment by one of the astronauts in the very last line of the film: “Look at that (. . .) I’ve never seen the air so clear.” The image of planet Earth from space acts as a metaphor for the purification of humanity right at the end of the film (Salvador and Norton 2011, 57), and it is precisely that same image of our planet from outer space that Al Gore shows at the very beginning of An Inconvenient Truth. Released two years after The Day After Tomorrow, the Oscar-winning documentary chronicles former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to raise awareness about the perils of global warming. An Inconvenient Truth became one of the topgrossing documentaries of all time, and was awarded the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2007. The impact of the film was overwhelming; its success, domestically and internationally, catapulted Gore to unexpected celebrity in the US film industry, and established him as an internationally acclaimed, authoritative voice in the rancorous debate about climate change. Many believed the film might pave the way for a run for the presidency in 2008. As we know, that never happened, but Gore’s career as an environmental celebrity shot up after the worldwide success of the documentary. An Inconvenient Truth, and its subsequent best-selling book adaptation, echo the dramatic urgency of The Day After Tomorrow, but with a patina of scientific respectability absent in the summer blockbuster of 2004. The powerful images that Gore includes in the PowerPoint presentation that serves as the basis of the film are not as spectacular as Emmerich’s special effects, but carry instead the weight of truth that documentaries are usually associated with. Much has been written about the accuracy of the extensive information Gore presents in his slide show. There seems to be a general consensus within the scientific community about the reliability of most scientific information in An Inconvenient Truth, though some minor mistakes and exaggerations for dramatic purposes have been detected. The film has been praised for its way of explaining a difficult topic such as global warming to the general public (Quiring 2007, 3). A consensus of a very different kind was also found among climate change skeptics on the political and media right, who have harshly criticized the documentary, and made Gore the new villain of global climate change, which Republican Senator James Inhofe has called “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (Mooney 2006, 79). Attacks on Davis Guggenheim’s documentary from the right, from political pundits and the media, as well as from the fossil fuel industry, should

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come as no surprise. Any serious attempt at increasing the environmental awareness of the population would certainly face hostility from those sectors. But An Inconvenient Truth also attracted criticism from more “neutral” observers and from the political left. On the one hand, geographers such as Haripriya Rangan criticized the Eurocentrism of the film, which, in her opinion, could understandably attract the attention of US and Western audiences, but which could have a more difficult relationship with non-Western spectators (Rangan 2009, 209). Beyond its very graphic explanation of the way global warming works and affects our planet, there is no rigorous analysis of the political dimension of the problem. In fact, Gore makes this point very clear in the first part of the film, when he explicitly affirms that “ultimately, this is not a political issue so much as a moral issue.” I cannot disagree more with Gore’s statement: reducing climate change to an ethical question avoids the roots of the problem that are buried in the social and economic inequalities inherent to capitalism. This is a political issue that demands a political solution. Opting for energy-saving light bulbs or a hybrid car is an individual choice that some people can afford and many more cannot. If our strategy to oppose climate change simply relies on individual choices, we will be opting for not only an insufficient action, but also a socially and economically unjust one. Geographer Jon Barnett acknowledges this in his assessment of An Inconvenient Truth: What is largely missing in both the film and climate impact research are words and images that convey the deeper injustice of the high vulnerability of lowincome communities, dependent on climate-sensitive resources, who have contributed almost nothing to the problem of climate change but stand to lose the most due to their relatively higher exposure to risks and their lower capacity to adapt (Barnett 2009, 209).

Gore does mention some episodes of environmental crises taking place in poor regions, but there is not any analysis whatsoever that may help explain the causes underlying those events. Sometimes, as Ragan argues, they may not even be connected to climate change, but to specific climate patterns in those geographical areas (Rangan 2009, 208). In essence, what is missing in the film is what Rob Nixon calls “the environmentalism of the poor.” Nixon refers to the urgent need to give visibility to long-term environmental crises that do not make headlines, and whose victims go unnoticed because they are poor, or black, or women, or live in the Southern hemisphere, or all of these: “How, in an age when the news media venerate the spectacular, when public policy and electoral campaigns are shaped around perceived immediate need, can we convert into image and narrative those disasters that are slow-moving and long in the making, anonymous, starring nobody, attritional and of indifferent interest to our image-driven world?” (Nixon 2011).


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The spectacular fits Gore’s narrative much more smoothly than “slow violence.” Maybe that is precisely the reason for the success of An Inconvenient Truth, for the Oscar, for the Nobel Prize. But then the connection between environmental crises and capitalism is inevitably lost. Though very critical of the system’s dependence upon fossil fuels, Al Gore is essentially a green capitalist. He supports the idea that sustainable capitalism is more ethical and also more profitable. In his Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism, co-written with David Blood in 2011, Gore insisted on the idea that “[d]eveloping sustainable products and services can increase a company’s profits, enhance its brand, and improve its competitive positioning, as the market increasingly rewards this behavior.” In the text, Gore and Blood defined “sustainable capitalism” as “a more responsible form of capitalism (. . .) a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value by reforming markets to address real needs while integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process” (Gore and Blood 2011). Thus, Gore’s environmentalism is undoubtedly pro-market and deeply rooted in the capitalist system. Ten years before Gore and Blood’s manifesto, Joel Kovel had co-authored a very different one. In An Ecosocialist Manifesto, Kovel and Michael Lowy asserted: “We believe that the present capitalist system cannot regulate, much less overcome, the crises it has set going. It cannot solve the ecological crisis because to do so requires setting limits upon accumulation—an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die!” (Kovel and Lowy 2011). A year later, Professor Kovel developed those ideas in his The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? In the second edition of the book, published soon after the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Kovel acknowledged the documentary’s value: “His 2006 film (and book) (. . .) has probably done more than any other single intervention to sound the alarm about global warming.” But he immediately added: “As valuable as its advocacy of serious change to combat global warming undoubtedly is, by setting the logic of that change within the dominant system Gore commits an error of literally fatal proportions” (Kovel 2007, 165). In A Really Inconvenient Truth (Khosravi 2007), Kovel’s film response to Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, the intellectual co-founder of ecosocialism argues that Gore uses morality as a smokescreen in the film in order to avoid the political dimension of global warming. Kovel is right when he points out that when Gore affirms that “if we allow [the exponential rising of CO2 levels] to happen it is deeply unethical,” he is in no way explaining why those levels are increasing. If they keep on rising— Kovel argues—it is not because of moral activities, but because of economic activities (Khosravi 2007). That is the part of the story that is definitely missing from An Inconvenient Truth and from Gore’s environmental discourse in general.

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To many, The Day After Tomorrow and An Inconvenient Truth proved conclusive enough to lead people to unquestionably accept the existence of climate change and the need to embrace a greener version of capitalism. The time was probably ripe then for the transformation of both US and world economies that the climate threat was desperately demanding. In 2007, journalist Thomas L. Friedman was asking for a “Green New Deal” in an article in the New York Times: “The presidential candidate that (. . .) comes up with a compelling energy/environment agenda (. . .) is going to have a real leg up in 2008” (Friedman 2007). That candidate would finally be Barack Obama, and he did arrive at the White House in early 2009 with a green agenda. With his election, the hope for a real environmental revolution became even stronger. In his recent assessment of Obama’s climate change record, Christopher J. Bailey concludes that “Obama managed to bridge the gap between promises and performance that has been a common feature of US politics for several decades” (Bailey 2008, 15). The facts, however, prove otherwise. Obama may have tried to tackle the problem, but he probably understood that fighting those battles would endanger his first mandate and a potential second one. Naomi Klein argues that, in spite of enjoying a large amount of resources and power, the problem with Obama was that he fully ascribed to a powerful ideology that had convinced him—as it has convinced virtually all of his political counterparts—that there is something wrong with telling large corporations how to run their businesses (. . .) and that there is something sinister, indeed vaguely communist, about having a plan to build the kind of economy we need, even in the face of an existential crisis (Klein 2014, 124–25).

After all, Obama’s green agenda was deeply rooted in the same capitalist system responsible to a large extent for the climate crises of the last decades. Obama and Friedman, who talked about climate change during an interview in the documentary series Years of Living Dangerously (2014–2016)— an outstanding mega-production focused on global warming and environmental responses to the threat in different parts of the world—have continued to address the issue of climate change in the last few years. As outlined by Friedman in a recent article, his approach to the problem—like Obama’s and Gore’s—is clearly connected to what we have described here as Green Capitalism: “[My Green New Deal] is focused on innovation. I believe there is only one thing as big as Mother Nature, and that is Father Greed—a. k. a., the market. I am a green capitalist. I think we will only get the scale we need by shaping the market” (Friedman 2019). A much more progressive and socially committed version of the Green New Deal has been proposed since late 2018 by Sunrise Movement, a grassroots climate organization launched in 2015 by a small group of young activists. Their plan has been embraced by members


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of the Democratic Party, and, especially, by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), who presented a “Green New Deal Resolution” in both houses on February 7, 2019. The resolution aims to fight both climate change and social inequalities in the United States, and has sparked a heated debate in the political arena and the mass media. Ocasio-Cortez was an organizer for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign in 2016. Sanders ended up losing the nomination to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic National Convention that summer. During the convention, the issue of climate change was addressed through a short film which was both a call to action to fight climate change and an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, a mainstream representative of a political party that had done very little to seriously address the global warming threat in the past. The fiveminute video shown at the convention had been produced and directed by Canadian James Cameron, who was also producing Years of Living Dangerously at the time. Cameron has a long-time record of environmental activism. Having directed two of the highest-grossing films ever, Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009), he is also responsible for some very expensive and not very profitable documentaries about the deep ocean. But it was definitely Avatar where the Canadian director was able to display his “pop-culture environmentalism.” Making use of a blockbuster budget and cutting-edge special effects, Avatar is set at a time—2154—when life on a highly polluted Earth has become unbearable and a powerful corporation has engaged in a scientific, military, and, above all, economic enterprise on a distant moon—Pandora— that happens to be rich in unobtanium, an extremely valuable mineral that could help compensate for the depletion of natural resources on an overexploited planet Earth. Pandora is inhabited by the Na’vi, a tribal and spiritual community of blue-skinned humanoids who live in perfect harmony with their exuberant and wild nature. The military-industrial-capitalist complex, represented by the RDA Corporation and its army of mercenaries, tries to get the unobtanium by any means necessary. It is here that Cameron reveals his environmental concerns, having the terrestrial colonizers unscrupulously assault and spoil Pandora’s virgin land and the Na’vi’s sacred tree. Cameron does not conceal his preferences: early in the film, we know who the villains and the heroes are: a colonel and the corporate CEO, on the one hand, and the Na’vi, the scientists and a couple of marines, on the other. But Cameron’s writing and construction of characters are weak and clichéd, and the film’s environmental message gets diluted amidst so much stereotyping. And then there are the (too) obvious references to Dances with Wolves (1990), Pocahontas (1995), and The Last Samurai (2003), among others, that highlight the lack of originality of the plot. Avatar, in essence, is a futuristic and eco-friendly version of Titanic, a twenty-first-century CGI recreation of a love story against all odds. The

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lovers in the 1997 blockbuster had to overcome social and economic conventions and barriers related to their different social classes; in Pandora, differences of social class remain: Marine Jake Sully is an impoverished war veteran incapable of affording the operation that could fix his spine and make him abandon his wheelchair, while Neytiri is a Na’vi princess whose parents are the political and spiritual leaders of her clan. As if these odds were not difficult enough, the couple belong to different worlds (no metaphor intended). But this time Cameron wants the characters to resist the difficulties, and makes Jake “go native” through his avatar, a Na’vi-human hybrid designed by a group of scientists working for the RDA Corporation. Sully’s process of “Indianization” (the Na’vi are clearly reminiscent of a Native American tribe) will make him change sides and, as an avatar, fight against the occupation and exploitation of Pandora by the greedy corporation. The antagonism has led some critics to read the film as a denunciation of imperialism and racism; others have even labeled the film as “Marxist” (Delaney 2013; Tang 2011; Zizek 2010). There is something undoubtedly progressive in the way Cameron presents the two contending parts in the conflict, but his Manichean characterization of Good Vs. Evil diminishes the possible political intention of the film. If James Cameron had wanted the Pandoran story of resistance to stand as a Marxist opus, he could have had the Omaticaya people rebel en masse against the capitalist invaders. Instead, he recurs to a “white savior” to lead the Na’vi opposition against the colonizers. Through his avatar, not only does Jake Sully “go native,” but he also convinces all the tribes in Pandora to unite under his leadership to expel the invading army. As if to avoid criticism for employing a white savior figure, Cameron has Sully’s leadership doublechecked: first, by dozens of atokirina, seeds of the Tree of Souls, luminous and magical spirits from the forest that land on Jake as if to recognize him as special, “the chosen one;” and second, by Mo’at, Neytiri’s mother, who is not only the spiritual leader of the clan but also the interpreter of Eywa, the deity of Pandora and the Na’vi, and that has the final word when Jack is introduced to the rest of the tribe. With these guarantees, Cameron may have thought that there would be no reason to criticize the film’s racial undertone. However, the truth is that many critics have indeed labeled the film as racist. A good example is Annalee Newitz’s “When Will White People Stop making Movies Like “Avatar”?” In her review of the film, Newitz compares Avatar with films such as Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, or District 9, and concludes: These are movies about white guilt. Our main characters realize they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color—their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new


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In his analysis of the film, Slavoj Zizek refers to Cameron’s ideology as “superficial Hollywood Marxism,” and that seems a reasonable definition if we understand that Avatar’s political message is too simple and clichéd. Other scholars, such as Bert Olivier, differ from Zizek’s negative appraisal, praising the “eco-political” character of the film, which can lead audiences “to step beyond mere spectatorship and—like the character of Jake (. . .) in the film—stop being paralyzed in the face of the destruction of nature on planet Earth” (Olivier 2010, 9). However, we find Avatar’s ecology incapable of prompting a call to action as described by Olivier. Pandora’s computer-generated nature reveals itself as a milieu too distant and artificial to identify with. As expressed by Chris Klassen: “A simple engagement with the spectacle of the imagery cannot lead to any real world engagement with nature as the imagery of Avatar has no referential index” (Klassen 2012, 78). We do not question Cameron’s genuine environmental concerns, but they, like Gore’s, seem to point toward an eco-friendly version of capitalism. In his analysis of Avatar, Pietari Kääpaä argues that the film is a product of the system it seems to criticize: While the constituted ideology—the message of the film—may seem pro–environmentalist, even anti-capitalist, Avatar’s constitutive ideology—its embeddedness in wider systems of operation in commercial mainstream cinema, especially its shock and awe of technological mastery—make it a part of the structure it seeks to critique (Kääpä 2014, 20).

So where does Avatar’s environmentalism stand and how effective and lasting is its ecological message? In the 2010 article “Avatar activism,” Henry Jenkins includes Cameron’s film in a trend of participatory culture emanating from some Hollywood blockbusters. As for Avatar, Jenkins gives examples of ecological activism in Palestine, China or Brazil as a result of having watched the film and been inspired by its eco-political message (Jenkins 2010). We do not deny that the currently second highest-grossing film in the history of cinema may have provoked a stream of “Na’vi sympathy” (Holtmeier 2010, 419) in different audiences around the world. But the examples of “Avatar activism” we hear about are limited to the few stories told in the first months after the release of the film. Cameron was certainly right when—in an interview in 2014—he declared that “Avatar was a unique film in that it was an epic, tent-pole Hollywood feature that was environmentally themed. There really aren’t any other movies out there you could point to as models or templates for that. (. . .)

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Certainly not in the budget class” (Joiner 2014). It was for that reason that many on the political Right attacked the film as anti-capitalist and unAmerican propaganda. But is Avatar really an anti-capitalist film? There certainly is criticism directed against the RDA Corporation and its administrator, Parker Selfridge. But he is a weak boss whose leadership is opposed to that of Colonel Miles Quaritch. The head of the security army is a strong character who lives and dies according to his strict value system. His orders to attack the Na’vi’s Hometree are cruel and merciless, turning him into the real villain of the film. But, in spite of this, there seems to be a sense of admiration in the way the director portrays him. In fact, Cameron has repeatedly asserted that leadership is one of the most important features a person can have, and Quaritch is a ruthless leader, but a leader nonetheless. On the contrary, Selfridge is a greedy and easily manipulated person, who accepts Quaritch’s “shock and awe” strategy of attack and who shows some remorse while watching the images of the attack on screen. Selfridge is the representative of a capitalist corporation, but he definitely does not represent capitalism. The film does not decry capitalism as such, but a misconceived version of it. Cameron, seemingly content in his role as White eco-savior, leads us to believe that eco-capitalism is the answer to have Pandora-like environments on Earth. In the end, the “greenest” Hollywood blockbuster ever is nothing but a well-intentioned production whose naïve political message misses to explain the causes behind the depletion of natural resources on Earth and fails to foster a long-termed environmental activism. But, after all, what should we expect from a film industry so embedded in the capitalist economic system? Without a clear acknowledgment of the incompatibility of capitalism and environmentalism, a green revolution is not possible. The Green New Deal that this planet needs cannot be defined by Thomas A. Friedman, Al Gore, Barack Obama, or Hollywood, much less by large corporations trying to greenwash their brands while making a profit. We need a Green Revolution emerging from a worldwide grassroots movement, one that is able to narrate and contest the short-term effects of the pending climate change, but also the long-term consequences associated with the “slow violence” that so many underprivileged communities are suffering all over the world. As utopian as it may sound, when/if that time comes, we will no longer need an “environmentalism of the poor,” but an ecology for all human beings and all territories alike. There is, of course, a lot of science involved in this gigantic task, that of climatologists, geographers, and social scientists, among many others. But we, as Rob Nixon accurately argues, definitely need the Arts to be an active part of the process; the “writers-activists” called upon by him and many others. Cinema must also play a role in this story, to build a powerful narrative not based on statistics and charts, but on stories of suffering and resis-


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tance, on accounts of environmental struggle and justice that may help regain the eco-social balance and dignity of our planet. Documentary filmmakers are doing their job, but their work, with very few exceptions, does not have the impact of a Hollywood blockbuster. However, we cannot expect Hollywood to produce big-budget films aimed at exposing the roots of the dramatic climate crisis we are facing around the world, since that would question the very essence of the economic system the US film industry rests upon. We may have a McDonald’s/Coca-Cola–sponsored Avatar from time to time, but that is probably as far as Hollywood will go in developing an eco-friendly plot. Meanwhile, the US film industry will keep on “greening” its brand and its productions. That will hardly help create a truly sustainable economy, but will help sustain the rapacious “green” capitalism we are living in. REFERENCES Bailey, Christopher J. 2018. “Assessing President Obama’s Climate Change Record.” Environmental Politics 28, no. 4: 1–19. Barnett, Jon. 2009. “Words and Images in An Inconvenient Truth,” Geographical Research 47, no. 2: 209–11. Berghoff, Hartmut. 2017. “Shades of Green: A Business-History Perspective of Eco-Capitalism.” In Green Capitalism? Business and the Environment in the Twentieth Century, edited by Hartmut Berghoff and Adam Rome, 13–32. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Cameron, James, director. 2009. Avatar. Carson, Rachel. 1962. Silent Spring. New York: Fawcett World Library. Delaney, Tim and Ellen Reed. 2013. “A Marxist Look at Avatar.” In Marxism and the Movies: Critical Essays on Class Struggle in the Cinema, edited by Mary K. Leigh and Kevin K., 145–63. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. Emmerich, Roland, director. 2004. The Day After Tomorrow. Fleischer, Richard, director. 1973. Soylent Green. Friedman, Thomas L. 2007. “The Power of Green.” New York Times, April 15. ———. 2019. “The Green New Deal Rises Again.” New York Times, January 8. Gore, Al, and David Blood. 2011. Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism. Accessed 14 February, 2019. https://www.algore.com/news/a-manifesto-for-sustainable-capitalism. Guggenheim, Davis, director. 2006. An Inconvenient Truth. Holleman, Hannah. 2018. Dust Bowl of Empires: Imperialism, Environmental Politics, and the Injustice of “Green” Capitalism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Holtmeier, Matthew. 2010. “Post-Pandoran Depression or Na’vi Sympathy: Avatar, Affect and Audience Reception.” Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture 4, no. 4: 414–24. Jenkins, Henry. 2010. “Avatar Activism.” henryjenkins.org. Last modified September 21, 2010. Joiner, James. 2014. “James Cameron On Getting Over Dread, Despair and Yourself Long Enough to Believe in Climate Change.” Esquire (September 23) https://www.esquire.com/ news-politics/news/a30043/james-cameron-on-the-climate-crisis/. Kääpä, Pietari. 2014. Ecology and Contemporary Nordic Cinemas: From Nation-Building to Ecocosmopolitanism. London: Bloomsbury. Klassen, Chris. 2012. “Avatar, Dark Green Religion, and the Technological Construction of Nature.” Cultural Studies Review 18, no. 2: 74–88. Klein, Naomi. 2014. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Simon & Schuster. Khosravi, Cambiz A., dir. 2007. A Really Inconvenient Truth.

Another Inconvenient Truth


Kovel, Joel. 2007. The Enemy of Nature. The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? Zed Books. Kovel, Joel and Michael Lowy. 2001. An Ecosocialist Manifesto. (September). Accessed 16 February 2019. http://environment-ecology.com/political-ecology/436-an-ecosocialistmanifesto.html. Mooney, Chris. 2006. The Republican War on Science. Basic Books. Murray, Robin L. and Joseph K. Heumann. 2009. Ecology and Popular Film: Cinema on the Edge. Sunny Press. Newitz, Annalee. 2019. “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?” Gizmodo (December 12). https://www.io9.gizmodo.com/when-will-white-people-stop-makingmovies-like-avatar-5422666. Nixon, Rob. 2011. “Slow Violence.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 26. https:// www.chronicle.com/article/Slow-Violence/127968. Olivier, Bert. 2010. “Avatar: Ecopolitics, Technology, Science, Art and Myth.” South African Journal of Arts History 25, no. 3: 1–16. Quiring, Steven M. 2007. “Science and Hollywood: a discussion of the scientific accuracy of An Inconvenient Truth.” GeoJournal 70, no. 1: 1–3. Rangan, Hapiriya. 2009. “Black–boxing regional variability in An Inconvenient Truth.” Geographical Research 47, no. 2: 207–209. Rogers, Heather. 2010. Green Gone Wrong: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Eco-Capitalism. Verso. Sáez, Cristina. 2019. “Eco-Friendly Practices in the Film Industry.” (28 January). http://lab. cccb.org/en/eco-friendly-practices-in-the-film-industry/. Salvador, Michael, and Todd Norton. 2011. “The Flood Myth in the Age of Global Climate Change.” Environmental Communication 5, no. 1: 45–61. Smith, Richard. 2016. Green Capitalism. The God That Failed. World Economics Association. Tang, Yong. 2011. “Avatar: A Marxist Saga on the Far Distant Planet.” tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 9, no. 2: 657–67. Von Burg, Ron. 2019. “Decades Away or The Day After Tomorrow? Rhetoric, Film, and the Global Warming Debate.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 29, no. 1: 7–26. Zizek, Slavoj. 2010. “Avatar: Return of the Natives,” New Statesman (4 March).

Chapter Sixteen

De-Evolution, Dystopia, and Apocalypse in American Postmodern Speculative Fiction Javier Martín Párraga

INTRODUCTION From the beginning of mankind, human beings have considered themselves superior to all the other creatures on Earth. Consequently, we have positioned our species at the top of a pyramid which encompasses every living creature on Earth. Consequently, ancient myths and religions conceptualized gods and goddesses as anthropomorphic, both from a physical perspective and from a moral one (as it is well-known, throughout history divine entities have tended to share human virtues and faults alike). This conception was soon re-enforced by the majority of sacred texts, such as the Christian Bible or the Islamic Quran. As a clear example, it is important to remember how God, from the Genesis, commands human beings to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). During the medieval period, God was placed by theocracy at the center of human lives and the universe. However, human being skept receiving a privileged status, since mankind had been created following God’s perfect image. With the advent of Renaissance, anthropocentrism replaced theocracy and, consequently, philosophers and artists substituted God at the focus of main interest, embracing the idea that mankind deserved all their attention. Posteriorly, with the emergence of modernity and the rise of capitalism, science and reason became more important than philosophy or religion. Nonetheless, the idea that mankind was inherently superior to any other 227


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species remained basically unchanged, as Darwin’s Origin of Species corroborates: Man does not actually produce variability; he only unintentionally exposes organic beings to new conditions of life, and then nature acts on the organization, and causes variability. But man can and does select the variations given to him by nature, and thus accumulate them in any desired manner. He thus adapts animals and plants for his own benefit or pleasure (1859, 466).

A purely scientific analysis of his conclusions proves Darwin absolutely right. However, from a moral perspective, the superiority of mankind is certainly questionable. The human species has, indeed, produced numberless scientific, social, and artistic wonders. But, at the same time, we have perpetrated the most indescribable acts of cruelty and atrocity toward the planet and other fellow humans. Human cruelty and lack of respect toward the environment can be traced back to the very origins of the species. However, the exponential scientific and technological advancements that took place during the twentieth century allowed mankind to become exceedingly destructive, both to the planet and to our own species. At this point in history (after Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Vietnam, humaninduced global warming, etc.), one may wonder to what extent it is not barbaric to consider humans as the most advanced species on the planet. Some contemporary American novelists have devoted some of their most valuable works to this exact question: are humans really superior to other species or, on the contrary, have we become a sort of Derridean autoimmune disease which is destined to destroy ourselves, all the other species, and maybe even the globe? Many of these authors were speculative fiction authors or science fiction authors. Other writers simply embraced those genres when tackling this difficult, ominous and inescapable question. Therefore, the list of novels which depict a human-induced apocalypse is very long ranges from Isaac Asimov to Thomas Pynchon. In the present chapter, I will focus on the case of Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos (1985) and Bernard Malamud’s God’s Grace (1982). KURT VONNEGUT’S GALÁPAGOS With the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007) became one of the most acclaimed and influential American novelists of the twentieth century. Vonnegut’s relation with science fiction is complex and those scholars who have devoted more time and talent to the study of his corpus have been debating whether his novels could be cataloged as belonging to this genre since the 1970s, without reaching any clear consensus. Benjamin Demott doesn’t hesitate to affirm that, “Science fiction

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allows Vonnegut to project himself into the future and there discover a kind of futility and gloom in man’s existence” (1973, 99). Donald Lawyer agrees with Demott: “Vonnegut’s criticism of ideas is shaped by two correlative literary forms, science fiction and comedy. The forms are reciprocal in the novel and together create the context in which the ideas are dramatized [. . .] The type of science fiction Vonnegut chose was the space opera, which he considered an obviously kidding sort” (1977, 70–71). Nonetheless, some other prominent Vonnegut experts strongly disagree. As an example, Donald Lawyer defends the idea that Vonnegut was not writing science fiction but, indeed, parodying the genre (1977, 70–71) and Jerome Klinkowitz (probably Vonnegut’s sharpest critic) also defends this idea: “My own interest in Vonnegut focuses on The Sirens of Titan, and I approach the novel by asking myself if Vonnegut is really a science fiction writer or whether he is perhaps a science fiction writer in sheep’s clothing. I opt for the sheep’s clothing” (1982, 189). Ellen Cronan Rose adheres to these critics: “One needs only be aware that Vonnegut is not making jokes about science fiction but with it [. . .] One seems forced at least to consider the possibility that The Sirens of Titan is a parody of serious science fiction” (1979, 15–16). Stanley Schatt concludes that Vonnegut was not a science fiction writer but, rather, an author whose publishing house advertised him as such (1976, 35). More recently, Todd F. Davis reached a very similar assumption: “to conclude that Vonnegut writes straight science fiction is to make the same mistake as the publishing industry” (2006, 49–50). Other scholars, like McNelly, are not as categorical about Vonnegut’s inclusion into this particular genre: “I guess I’m defending Vonnegut as a science fiction writer. [. . .] Well, what’s the true? Is he or isn’t he? Does he or doesn’t he?—Well, somewhere between the two” (1971, 192). Conrad Festa agrees with McNelly and defends the idea that Vonnegut was indeed using science fiction even when he was not a science fiction author: “Vonnegut’s first problem is getting our attention; a problem he shares with all other writers. Satirists have frequently solved this problem by offering the reading public what its current tastes demand [. . .] Vonnegut follows this same technique by appropriating the popular fiction of our days: science fiction and the confessional” (1977, 139). So far I have shown how difficult is for his critics to catalog Vonnegut as a science fiction author. If one pays attention to Vonnegut’s own opinion, there is no room for doubt. As Klinkowitz reminds us, “when his complete works were reissued by Dell in 1970, Vonnegut insisted that they be catalogued as straight mass–market paperbacks, not as science fiction” (1982, 20). In a 1965 New York Times interview, the author showed how uncomfortable he felt within a genre he considered as childish: “I learned from the reviewers that I was a science fiction writer [. . .] the people in the field who


De-Evolution, Dystopia, and Apocalypse in Postmodern Speculative Fiction

can be charged fairly with tastelessness are 75 percent of the writers and 95 percent of the readers––or not so much tastelessness, really, as childishness” (1965, 1–3). More than two decades later, in his last published book, A Man without a Country (2006), Vonnegut kept defending the same ideas about the genre and his own contribution to it. In any case, as Zoltán Abádi-Nagy explains, “what is that makes good science fiction? To make people think intelligently about science and what can and cannot do. That’s what we must do now” (1999, 25). If this critic is right (and I adhere to his opinion that science fiction plays a fundamental social role by allowing us to inquire about our future) Vonnegut is certainly a science fiction author, as confirmed by the following quotation: “Writers are specialized cells in the social organism. They are evolutionary cells [. . .] when a society is in danger, we’re likely to sound the alarms. I continue to think that artists—all artists—should be treasured as alarm systems” (Standish 1999, 77). Consequently, Vonnegut’s Galápagos (1985) pursues a clearly Horatian double goal of entertaining and educating readers (as does the whole of his literary production). It is important to note that the author got inspiration for this novel after visiting Galápagos Islands himself. During this sojourn, he was able to contemplate the validity of Darwin’s theories with his own eyes. Vonnegut’s fascination with Darwin’s theories (and its cruel social implication) led him to do scientific research before starting to write this novel. The quality of this research is supported by prestigious paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote a letter to Vonnegut in which he praised the accuracy of Vonnegut’s descriptions and how possible (even when highly improbable) his science fictional predictions regarding fauna and flora were (Nuwer 1999, 252). The plot of the novel is consistent with the preoccupation many American writers have shown with the possible apocalyptic effects of human’s meddling with nature and technical advances, In Galápagos, human scientific and technical hubris has affected the planet so much that a virus develops as the Earth’s mechanism of defense against its worst enemy: mankind. Together with this virus, a series of global military conflicts devastate the totality of the human species, with the exception of a few survivors who find themselves navigating near the Galápagos Islands when Armageddon unleashes. This group of survivors, who arrive to the island of Santa Rosalía after they shipwreck, is composed by a number of people who will be, according to Darwin and common sense alike, quite unable to repopulate the planet. They are a man, three women, and three girls. Of the three adult women, one is blind, another one infertile, and one who is not only able to give birth but is indeed pregnant yet suffers from the side effects of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing.

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As a result, the survival of humankind in Galápagos is granted by the offspring of Hisako, a woman whose body and mind are severely damaged as a result of her mother’s exposure to radiation unleashed during the war. Consequently, in this dystopian and ecological fable, evolution is interrupted, and de-evolution is shown as the only and last hope for men and women. According to the narrator of the novel (and one is tempted to assume that Vonnegut himself strongly agrees), de-evolution is not only positive but inevitable: “Even at this late date, I am still full of rage at a natural order which would have permitted the evolution of something as distracting and irrelevant and disruptive as those great big brains of a million years ago” (1985, 189). At Santa Rosalía Island, big brains will soon stop being a problem, since de-evolution has started by affecting the babies’ cognitive capacities. The second de-evolutionary step has transformed their bodies, enabling them to survive in a harsh and mostly aquatic scenario: As for human beings making a comeback, of starting to use tools and build houses and play musical instruments and so on again: They would have to do it with their beaks this time. Their arms have become flippers in which the arm bones are almost entirely imprisoned and immobilized. Each flipper is studded with five purely ornamental nubbins [. . .] The more streamlined the skull, the more successful the fisher person (1985, 201–2).

Step by step, de-evolution separates Santa Rosalía’s inhabitants more and more from homo sapiens: It was the best fisherfolk who survived in the greatest numbers in the watery environment of the Galápagos Archipelago. Those with hands and feet more like flippers were the best swimmers. Prognathous jaws were better at catching and holding fish than hands could ever be. And any fisherperson, spending more and more time underwater, could surely catch more fish if he or she were more streamlined, more bulletlike—had a smaller skull (1985, 320).

After twenty years all the crew of the shipwrecked cruise are dead with the exception of the one lonely man on the island, the captain, and Akiko, the woman whose exposure to radiation has produced the first mutant children. But, as far as de-evolved people are concerned, the island is now populated by “seven furry children” (1985, 225). By the very end of the novel, the last human on the island (and the planet) is attacked by carnivorous birds and, trying to escape from them, jumps to the ocean, where he is immediately eaten by a hammerhead shark. This creature, who regressed evolution as we had known it since homo sapiens is described as showing “a design perfected by the Law of Natural Selection many, many years ago” (1985, 232).


De-Evolution, Dystopia, and Apocalypse in Postmodern Speculative Fiction

The narrator of Galápagos ends the book reflecting about how much things had changed in a short span of time, both for humans and the planet. Vonnegut was very well aware of all the damage humanity has caused to both nature and humanity alike. Thus, the extinction of homo sapiens who are replaced by more primitive, less ambitious creatures is not considered as a catastrophe but, quite the contrary, as the only chance of salvation for our planet: When my tale began, it appeared that the earthling part of the clockwork of the universe was in terrible danger, since many of its parts, which is to say people, no longer fitted in anywhere, and were damaging all the parts around them as well as themselves. I would have said back then that the damage was beyond repair. Not so! Thanks to some modifications in the design of human beings I see no reason why the earthling part of the clockwork can’t go on ticking forever the way it is ticking now (1985, 234).

BERNARD MALAMUD’S GOD’S GRACE I will now analyze the topic of science fiction, apocalypse and de–evolution in Bernard Malamud’s 1982 novel God’s Grace. Regarding the category of science fiction (or even speculative fiction), the case of Malamud (1914–1986) is very different from that of Vonnegut. Malamud is considered the most brilliant and sophisticated American Jewish writer and he is one of the seminal figures within the heterogeneous group of Postmodern writers. Malamud, who was awarded two times with the National Book Award (1959 and 1967, respectively) and one time with the Pulitzer Prize (1967), is the author of eight novels and six collections of short stories. Until his very last novel, which I analyze in this paper, his corpus never employed any topic which could be considered as remotely connected with science fiction, speculative fiction, or dystopia. Accordingly, there is a critical consensus regarding the suitability of pigeonholing (to employ the term Vonnegut used when defining his inclusion within the genre) as a science fiction author. Nonetheless, Malamud’s last novel, God’s Grace cannot but be defined as science fiction, as a short summary of the plot demonstrates. In this novel, God decides that mankind has been a terrible mistake on His part and decides to amend this misstep completely by producing a second flood (referred to as “the Devastation” in the novel). God’s decision is based on the long train of abuses mankind has been perpetrating on the planet since prehistory, which has recently culminated in the devastation of the planet after a nuclear conflict. At the beginning of the novel, God himself justifies His final verdict to the last human being on the planet:

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At the end, after the thermonuclear war between the Djanks and the Druzhkies, in consequence of which they had destroyed themselves, and, madly, all other inhabitants of the earth, God spoke through a glowing crack in a bulbous black cloud [. . .] They have destroyed my handiwork, the condition of their survival: the sweet air I gave them to breathe; the fresh water I blessed them with, to drink and bathe; the fertile green earth. They tore apart my ozone, carbonized my oxygen, acidified my refreshing air. Now they affront my cosmos. How much shall the Lord endure? (1982, 3–5).

By accident, Calvin Cohn, a paleologist who was doing research at the bottom of the ocean, is able to survive this Armageddon, together with an experimental chimpanzee capable of speech (Buz). When the waters finally start to recede, Cohn and Buz take to land and find some other apes which are also able to escape doomsday. In the novel, God himself acknowledges that “it was through a minuscule error that you escaped destruction [. . .] The cosmos is so conceived that I myself don’t know what goes on everywhere” (1982, 3–4). As we see, the fatal destiny of the human race can only be attributed to the many serious mistakes made by men through history, but the possibility of a new beginning (after de-evolution) is granted by mere chance. When the waters recede, the last human being is allowed sometime before his death, which will also mean the extinction of the whole human race. Cohn’s first days as a lonely survivor are full of anguish, depression, and rage. But one day, he discovers he is not alone after all, since his colleague’s chimpanzee has also been able to survive the second flood. The animal “seemed lively, optimistic, objective” (1982, 17) and his company will soon improve the man’s mood. The man’s happiness is exponentially increased when he finds out in Dr. Bünder’s research notes that the chimpanzee has been taught the Ameslan sign language and was now fairly fluent and able to communicate and transmit ideas that go beyond basic concepts. Soon, man and chimpanzee start to live together at a cavern. As we see, the last human being, a modern scientist, starts the rest of his life in a cave, just like mankind did before science and technology. Just like we did before our advancement, discoveries, and greed enabled us to destroy ourselves and our planet. One night, when Cohn is suffering a radiation illness he cannot diagnose or treat without the benefit of modern technology, something incredible happens: During a long night of delirium, with morbid intervals of awareness and no desire to go on, cursing the woman who had given him birth and anybody who had assisted in the enterprise, Cohn woke in the drafty front cave to the sensuous presence (Mama forgive me) of a hand lifting his aching head. It then seemed to the sick man that a delicious elixir of coconut was flowing down his parched throat (1982, 35).


De-Evolution, Dystopia, and Apocalypse in Postmodern Speculative Fiction

At this early point in the novel it is already evident that in God’s Grace, men are the agents of destruction (with the inestimable help of technology), while apes (using primitive, natural, means) become the only hope of redemption for life on earth. As the narrative progresses, Cohn and Buz share the island for a period of several months, during which the man tries to tell the animal about the Torah, Shakespeare, and philosophy, and the primate instructs the man on how to survive in such a primitive scenario. Their relationship becomes more intimate and soon, Buz is no longer an animal to Cohn’s eyes but rather a comrade (and, to a certain extent, a son). After those initial months, Cohn makes two surprising discoveries. The first one is related to their status as the only inhabitants of the island, since a gorilla approaches them first and later they spot several more apes. The second finding is more astonishing: Buz is not only able to communicate using sign language but also his own voice, since he had undergone a chirurgical procedure that provides him with an artificial larynx which he had not been able to use it until now since the wound had been slowly healing. But also, because he had not really felt the necessity of doing so, since as Buz himself will later explain, “what you don’t say means something too” (67). Now that he is able to speak, Buz can transmit a message Vonnegut, Malamud, Atwood and many other speculative novelists question themselves: “If he [man] was so superior [to all other creatures], where is he now?” (1982, 68). When debating religion, “Buz said he disliked violence and bloodshed” (1982, 171). As a result, the chimpanzee declares he is not a big fan of the Old Testament . . . or the way men had behaved throughout history: “And do you call murdering animals a civilized act?” (1982, 73). During his conversations, Buz also dislikes Ortega y Gasset’s philosophy; he defends his own, individual, and primitive attitude: “Buz, vaguely fingering his pink phallus, said his opinion was that the true purpose of life was to have as much fun as one could” (1982, 86). Once again what Vonnegut referred to as “irrelevant and disruptive great big brains” (1982, 189) led men to apocalypse while a more instinctive, animal way of behaving might be the only chance of hominid survival on earth after a man-made disaster. Buz starts to teach English to the other chimpanzees on the island. To Cohn’s marvel, they are not only capable of communicating without a larynx operation, but also of using human language in a sophisticated and mature manner. Accordingly, he starts interrogating them about their beliefs. One night he organizes a party of these chimpanzees and gives them a list of questions to answer. The fourth and final question is the following: “Do you think of life as having a particular purpose? What is it? Please answer responsively?” (1982, 115). All the apes answer similarly: the only meaning of life is to reproduce. As we see, life on earth seems guaranteed. Not for evolved human beings, but for speaking chimpanzees who do not waste their time debating philoso-

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phy or trying to acquire scientific or technical expertise. Nonetheless, after the second flood, mankind keeps trying to alter nature and other living creatures, which might endanger their own future: “What might please God would be some sensible arrangement of the lives of the apes on the island into a functioning social community, interacting lives; and with Cohn as advisor and protector to help them understand themselves and fulfill the social contract” (1982, 127). As an example of Cohn’s modification of the chimpanzees’ natural behavior, it is interesting to note how Mary Madelyn (the female chimpanzee) refuses to have sex, even when her instinct tells her so: “You wanted us to learn your language. Now that I have, I am different than I used to be. If I hadn’t learned to speak, I would have already presented myself to everyone on the island” (1982, 152). As a result of Mary’s moral prejudices against sex, rape attempts, and violence arise. Very soon, the chimpanzees’ education by Cohn leads to the emergence of racism (chimpanzees consider themselves superior to the gorilla and dislike the only albino chimp in the island, due to a recently acquired superstition). Far from understanding that it was precisely his human education which was making peace and harmony for the primates, Cohn keeps embracing Darwinism. Even after men destroyed the environment and enraged God, Cohn keeps considering men as superior to any other species. Thus, he devises a plan which is equally demented and morally sickening in order to ensure evolution, he needs to share his own DNA with that of Mary Madelyn (who, keep offering him the sexual favors which she vehemently denies to any member of her own species): “In sum, a worthy primate evolution demanded, besides a few macroevolutionary lucky breaks, a basis of brainpower; and commencing with a combination of man-chimp child, the two most intelligent of God’s creatures might produce this new species. ultimately of Cohn’s invention—an eon or two ahead on the molecular clock” (1982, 165). As a result of Cohn’s hubris, “a fuzzy white baby with human eyes” is born (1982, 178). The last human being on earth understands that, with this hybrid baby, “civilization had barely recommenced” (1982, 181). As the novel approaches its conclusion, it is clear (even to Cohn) that human education and language had not improved chimpanzees but, on the contrary, contaminated them with the same moral flaws that had led humanity to extinction: “these apes, after all, were not the naïve chimpanzees of the past” (1982, 190). As the chimpanzees become closer to humans, more separate from their own natural past, their behavior becomes more barbaric. Thus, when Cohn discovers some of them hunting and killing baboons (which they considered as an inferior race) he asks them, both shocked and enraged: “Wouldn’t you think you owed me some consideration for how comfortable I have helped make your lives? You have work, leisure, free school and health care [. . .] And how do you show your appreciation of these


De-Evolution, Dystopia, and Apocalypse in Postmodern Speculative Fiction

advantages? In the murder of children” (1982, 199). Evidently, Cohn is still not able to understand that those advantages he referred to (civilization, in other words) are precisely the ones which transformed chimpanzees into greedy, lustful, murderer creatures. To culminate their process of humanization, they invent a religion of their own, according to which, chimpanzees are the chosen ones: “Blessed are the chimpanzees, for they have inherited the whole earth” (1982, 205). Once the chimpanzees have culminated their civilization process (evolution process, if we take into account their acquired ability to speak and the way their intellect have evolved), they clearly understand Cohn is a threat. Consequently, they slay his hybrid daughter and himself. This is the end of Cohn, the last human on earth. And it is also the end of any hope for the primates. They are no longer primitive animals. They have evolved and learned a lot in a very short period of time. Consequently, they will very soon be able to improve their technology and, in a matter of years, they will have equal the social and technological level humans once had. But, judging their behavior at this early stage, there are no doubts they will also become destructive, both to themselves and the planet. Before being scarified, Cohn himself predicts a Third Flood. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos, mankind completely destroys the planet, but a new de-evolved species is able to survive in an equally primitive and harmonious manner. Bernard Malamud’s novel is even darker and more pessimistic, since in God’s Grace human beings are not only capable of annihilating our own species, but also of ruining any chance of survival through de-evolution. CONCLUDING REMARKS Science, technology, and the human’s brain ability to adapt and transform nature have granted human beings a privileged position upon other species. From prehistory, humans have been very well aware of their differences from other animals as well as of their own capabilities. Thus, our ambition has not stopped increasing. As centuries passed, we have become more and more skilled, inventive and, apparently, intelligent. Nonetheless, the unquestionable advantages science and technology have granted us have also created a number of potentially lethal threats both to our own species and the planet. Science fiction and speculative fiction writers have often chosen this preoccupation as one of their most frequent topics. In this chapter, I have analyzed how two very different authors reflect upon this question. The first author, Kurt Vonnegut, has been defined both by the majority of critics and readers as a science fiction master. Bernard Malamud, has never been included within this category. Nonetheless, they both employ science fiction to make read-

Javier Martín Párraga


ers aware of the imminent annihilation that might occur if we don’t start to be more respectful with ourselves and the environment. As a result, in these two authors, science fiction becomes the means for a more ambitious and socially useful goal. Paraphrasing Vonnegut, both authors are employing science fiction to become alarm systems who warn us about the irreversible consequences of our actions upon the planet and how, if we do not alter our behavior in a radical manner, nature will be forced to get rid of human beings in order to maintain itself. REFERENCES Abádi–Nagy, Zoltan. 1999. “Serenity, Courage, Wisdom: A Talk with Kurt Vonnegut.” In The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays, edited by Peter Reed and Marc Leeds, 15–34. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Cronan Rose, Ellen. 1979. “It’s All a Joke: Science Fiction in Kurt Vonnegut’s the Sirens of Titan.” Literature and Psychology 29:160–168. Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London: J. Murray. Davis, Todd F. 2008. Kurt Vonnegut’s Crusade; or, How a Postmodern Harlequin Preached a New Kind of Humanism. Albany: SUNY Press. Demott, Benjamin. 1973. “Vonegut’s Otherworldly Laughter.” In Popular Culture and the Expanding Consciousness, edited by Ray Browne, 99–109. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Festa, Conrad. 1977. “Vonnegut Satire.” In Vonnegut in America: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Kurt Vonnegut, edited by Jerome Klinkowitz and Donald L. Lawler, 133–49. New York: Delacorte Press/S. Lawrence. Klinkowitz, Jerome. 1982. Kurt Vonnegut, Contemporary writers. New York: Methuen. Klinkowitz, Jerome, and Donald L. Lawler. 1977. Vonnegut in America: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Delacorte Press/S. Lawrence. Lawyer, Donald. 1977. “The Sirens of Titan: Vonnegut’s Metaphysical Shaggy-Doggy Story.” In Vonnegut in America: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Kurt Vonnegut, edited by Jerome Klinkowiz, 61–86. New York: Dell. Malamud, Bernard. 1982. God’s Grace. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. McNelly, William. 1971. “Science Fiction: the Modern Mythology (Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five).” In SF: The Other Side of Realism. Essays on Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Thomas D. Clareson, 193–98. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. Nuwer, Hank. 1999. “A Skull Session with Kurt Vonnegut.” In Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, edited by William Rodney Allen, 240–65. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. Pynchon, Thomas. 1963. V., a Novel. New York: Lippincott. ———. 1966. The Crying of Lot 49. New York: Lippincott. ———. 1973. Gravity’s Rainbow. New York: Viking Press. ———. 1997. Mason & Dixon. New York: Henry Holt. Schatt, Stanley. 1976. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Twayne Publishers. Standish, David. 1999. “Playboy Interview with Kurt Vonnegut.” In Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, edited by William Rodney Allen, 76–111. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. Vonnegut, Kurt. 1965. “On Science Fiction.” The New York Times. ———. 1969. Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death. New York: Delacorte Press/S. Lawrence. ———. 1985. Galápagos: a novel. New York: Delacorte Press/S. Lawrence.


Albé niz, Isaac, 62, 65, 71 Alcover, Joan, 72 Alomar, Gabriel, 72 Anderson-Dargatz, Gail, 4, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105n7 Aristotle, 9 Asimov, Isaac, 228 Atwood, Margaret, 234 Azorí n (José Martí nez Ruiz), 72, 74 Ballard, L. G., 182, 185 Barrios, Á ngel, 62 Batmanglij, Zal, 5, 197, 198, 199, 200, 202, 203, 204, 207 Baudelaire, Charles, 68 Bennett, Claire-Louise, 4, 79, 87, 88, 89 Bilbao, Gonzalo, 70 Blanchan, Neltje, 26 Bloom, Harold, 113 Bö k, Christian, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116 Bonnin, Lluis, 69 Bourdieu, Pierre, 47n2 Bronte, Charlotte, 58n4 Buber, Martin, 10, 15, 19 Carson, Rachel, 167, 206, 213 Catesby, Mark, 26 Clinton, Hillary, 220 Cooper, Allan, 4, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 130, 131

Costa y Llobera, Miquel, 67, 72 Cuvier, Georges, 112 Dante Alighieri, 66, 113, 127 Darwin, Charles, 112, 138, 227, 228, 230 De Castro, Rosalía, 67 De Torres, Romero, 70 Debussy, Claude, 62, 64 Dels Sants Oliver, Miquel, 67, 72 Derrida, Jacques, 83, 84, 85, 88, 141, 198, 206 Descartes, René , 9 Dillard, Annie, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 Eddings, David, 150 Eddings, Leigh, 150 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 129, 172, 196 Falla, Manuel de, 62, 64, 65, 74 Fisher, James, 25, 33 Francis of Assissi, 131n1 Freud, Sigmund, 134 Friedman, Thomas A., 219, 223 Frost, Robert, 39, 131 Ganivet, Á ngel, 65 Garcí a Lorca, Federico, 62 Gimé nez Caballero, Ernesto, 74 Gonzá lez Blanco, André s, 74 239

240 Gore, Al, 196, 216, 217, 218, 219, 222, 223 Granados, Enrique, 62, 69 Gual, Adriá , 66, 68 Guanyabé ns, Emili, 72 Haushofer, Marlen, 4, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86 Heidegger, Martin, 130, 141 Hutton, Thomas, 112 Iturrino, Francisco, 70

Index Ortega y Gasset, José , 234 Osgood Wright, Mabel, 26 P’ei Ti, 4, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 130 Palmer, A. R., 113 Pardo Bazá n, Emilia, 67 Paz, Octavio, 125, 131n2 Pé rez de Ayala, Ramó n, 72, 74 Pinazo, Ignacio, 70 Pound, Ezra, 128, 131n3 Pullman, Philip, 151 Pynchon, Thomas, 228

Jimé nez, Juan Ramó n, 72 Kavan, Anna, 3, 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46 Keats, John, 52, 110, 115, 116 Lâ o Zi, 122 Locke, John, 58n3 Ló pez Mezquita, José María, 64 Lyell, Charles, 112 Maeterlinck, Maurice, 63 Malamud, Bernard, 232, 236 Maragall, Joan, 72 Marco Polo, 28 Markey, Ed, 219 Marquina, Eduardo, 72, 73 Matthiessen, Peter, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34 McCarthy, Cormac, 32, 197, 198, 204, 205, 206, 207 McPhee, John, 112, 117n5, 181 Meifré n, Eliseo, 70 Mendel, Gregor, 138 Merriam Bailey, Florence, 26 Mestres, Apeles, 72 Mir, Joaquín, 70 Nebrija, Antonio de, 73 Nelken, Margarita, 74 Nonell, Isidre, 65 Obama, Barack, 219, 223 Ocasio–Cortez, Alexandria, 219, 220 Okorafor, Nnedi, 154, 162 Orozco, Manuel, 71

Ravel, Maurice, 62 Regoyos, Darío de, 64, 70, 71 Respighi, Ottorino, 62 Rodríguez-Acosta, José María, 64, 70 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 129 Rowling, J. K., 150 Rusiñol, Santiago, 4, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74 Sainz, Casimiro, 70 Sanders, Bernie, 220 Sanders Peirce, Charles, 9 Schaller, George, 25 Shakespeare, William, 234 Shelley, Mary, 49, 56 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 56, 57 Smith, Adam, 58n3 Sorolla, Joaquín, 64 Stevens, Wallace, 127 Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, 131n1 Tennyson, Alfred Lord, 112 Thoreau, Henry David, 10, 34, 123, 130, 167, 196, 247 Thorne Miller, Olive, 26 Thurston, Harry, 4, 119, 120, 121, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 130, 131 Tolkien, J. R. R., 150, 151, 154 Tooke, Horne, 58n3 Tory Peterson, Roger, 25, 27, 33 Turina, Joaquín, 62 Uexkü ll, Jacob von, 10, 15 Unamuno, Miguel de, 71, 127 Ussher, James, 112

Index Valladar, Francisco de Paula, 65 Valle-Inclá n, Ramó n María del, 67, 68 VanderMeer, Jeff, 3, 5, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 58n2, 134, 135, 136, 137, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 176 Virgil, 110, 113, 114 Vonnegut, Kurt, 6, 228, 229, 230, 231, 232, 234, 236

Wang Wei, 4, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 130 Weinberger, Eliot, 125, 131n2 Wells, H. G., 52, 53 Winthuysen, Javier de, 70, 74 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 141 Woese, Carl, 138 Wordsworth, William, 56, 57 Zuloaga, Ignacio, 62, 71


About the Editors

Eduardo Valls Oyarzun is associate professor in the English Department at Complutense University, Madrid (Spain). He received his PhD degree at this same institution—where he also earned his undergraduate degree—in 2006. He is the first doctor in English philology that obtained the mention Doctor Europeus. His doctoral dissertation, “Formación y Representación de la Ideología Moderna en la Literatura Inglesa del Siglo XIX” (dissertation which he conducted under the funding program Formación del Profesorado Universitario—Training for University Teaching Staff—2001–2004, awarded by the Ministry of Education and Science) constitutes an extensive and systematic reflection on the role Nietzschean philosophy played in the development of English literature within the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. He has been developing his research along these lines for several years and through academic sojourns in various European universities, such as Edinburgh or Leiden (in the latter he obtain the degree in Master of Arts in English Literature in 2003). His research interests focus on the English nineteenth-century fiction, the history of ideas (Nietzsche and the fin de siècle), Victorian studies, Modernism, both British (with special attention to Joseph Conrad) and American (with special focus on Francis Scott Fitzgerald), and travel literature. Additionally, he has also researched on Shakespearean and ecocriticism, T. S. Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville, or the cultural connections between music and literature. Currently, he is a member of the research group “Literary Contexts of Modernity,” which deals with the genesis and development of ideology in modernity and postmodernity in the Englishspeaking world. He has published a number of articles and chapters of books about the influence of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche on Joseph Conrad, Oscar 243


About the Editors

Wilde, and Francis Scott Fitzgerald or the relationship of Edgar Allan Poe with American Modernism (T. S. Eliot in particular). He has also translated and edited the essay El perfecto wagneriano by George Bernard Shaw (Alianza Editorial, 2011), as well as the book Resistencia en teoría (Verbum, 2011), in which a panorama of avant-garde propositions of present literary criticism are traced. Moreover, he has delivered numerous lectures and speech in Universities such as Amsterdam, Leiden, Kent, Bard College (United States), Lublin and Jagiellonska (Poland), Lisboa, Complutense of Madrid or Santiago de Compostela. He is a member of the Joseph Conrad International Society of London and the International Society for Travel Writing (based in Complutense University). Rebeca Gualberto Valverde works as assistant professor at the Complutense University of Madrid, where she teaches at the Department of English Studies. In 2015 she completed her PhD in Literary Studies with honours at the Complutense University of Madrid, where she also got her BA in English in 2009 and her MA in Literary Studies in 2010. Her PhD dissertation, titled “Representation and Reinterpretation of the Waste Land Myth in Anglo-American Literature,” explores varied processes of representation and reinterpretation of the Arthurian myth of the Waste Land at different stages of the Anglo-American literary tradition, from the English Renaissance to American Postmodernism. With the financial aid of a UCM scholarship, she carried out part of her doctoral research at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, where she stayed as a visiting postgraduate student in 2013. Besides her literary and philological background, Professor Gualberto also has work experience and an academic background in education. She holds a MA in teaching from UNED (National Distance Education University) and has taught in the field of education in the Faculty of Humanities at Isabel I International University and in the Department of Education, Behaviour and Society at the European University of Madrid. Her academic interests and fields of research mostly focus on the study of myths and of mythical representation in literature as a critical prism to explore literature and culture from a social, political and ideological perspective. She has published several articles in scholarly journals and chapters in scientific volumes, most of them examining post-medieval reinterpretations of Arthurian mythology, be that in Renaissance drama, in modernism, or in the works of contemporary novelists. She has also published some of her work on mythical representation and intertextuality in contemporary popular culture. She is especially interested in the literature and culture of periods of transition: the transition towards historical modernity, that is, the Renaissance, and the transition towards cultural modernity, during in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century.

About the Editors


Noelia Malla García works as an assistant professor of English at the Department of English Philology at the University of Extremadura. She holds a BA in English philology and an MA in Literary Studies (Complutense University, 2010), and another MA in English language teaching (UNED, 2013). She is currently a doctorate student at the Department of English Studies at Complutense University of Madrid, where she is conducting her research on Joseph Conrad. She has been a visiting researcher at the Jagiellonian University of Cracow (Poland) with the financial aid of a fellowship from the Polish Ministry of Education for international students. Her fields of research include British Romanticism and environmentalism, Anglo-American Modernism and Medical Humanities. She has participated in several national and international conferences and has published a variety of articles on English literature and English Language Teaching. María Colom Jiménez works as an assistant professor at Complutense University of Madrid, where she teaches Portuguese language and literature at the Department of Romanic, French and Italian Studies, and Translation. In 2016 she completed her PhD in literary studies with honors and was granted the extraordinary doctorate award at Complutense University of Madrid. Professor Colom also completed a BA in English (2009) and an MA in literary studies (2010). Her PhD dissertation, titled “Fernando Pessoa’s English Literary Characters: A Critical Study and Assesment of Personalities and Texts,” studies the English works of Pessoa from a comparative approach. In 2012 with the financial aid of a UCM Erasmus scholarship, she carried out part of her doctoral research at the University of Coimbra and Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (PT). In 2007 she was granted an Erasmus Scholarship and coursed an academic year at Université Livre (Brussles). Professor Colom also has work experience and academic background in education as she has worked for many years as an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) teacher in the degrees of video game, fashion, graphic, and interior Design at ESNE School of Design (University Camilio José Cela, Madrid). Her areas of interest and academic research focus on: comparative literature, nineteenth and twentieth literature, Anglo-American literature, Portuguese language and literature, translation studies, studies on bilingualism and creative writing in second language acquisition. Professor Colom has participated in numerous national and international conferences and has published several articles in journals and chapters in scientific volumes, being the author of “Portugués para torpes” (Anaya, 2016). She is a member of the research project “Nuevos modelos urbanos en la postmodernidad. la no ciudad y sus representaciones literarias y artísticas” and participates in teaching innovation research groups at Complutense University.


About the Editors

Before becoming a language teacher, Rebeca Cordero Sánchez worked as a research assistant in the English Department at the Complutense University of Madrid for several years. She graduated with a degree in English literature from that same university with first-class honors in 2009. She holds a MA in literary studies (UCM, 2010) and another MA in teacher training and education (VIU, 2015). She spent a full academic year at the University of Sussex thanks to an Erasmus Scholarship in 2007. Three years later, she was awarded a four-year fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Education to develop her research on Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and popular culture studies. She carried out a three-month research stay at Georgia State University in Atlanta in 2013. She has presented communications in several national and international conferences (Lyon; Lisbon; Washington, DC; Alabama; Savannah), and has been part of the organizing committee of international conferences—among them the international conference “Reading Nature: Cultural Perspectives on Environmental Imagery” (2011), devoted to ecocriticism and environmental studies.

About the Contributors

Anastasia Cardone obtained her bachelor of arts and master of arts from the Università degli Studi di Milano (Italy), studying American nature writing and ecocriticism. In September 2016 her MA dissertation “From Aesthetics to Biosemiotics: Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, and Nature as a Wholeness” was awarded with the Agostino Lombardo Prize for best MA dissertation in American literature from the Italian Association of North American Studies (AISNA). She has been a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds (School of English) since October 2017, where she is also part of the Environmental Humanities research group. She works on the representation of birds in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American literature, with a particular focus on Henry David Thoreau. She has also carried out research on contemporary American nature writing and ecopoetry. She presented papers at the BookCity Fair in Milan in 2015, 2016, and 2017, at the Thoreau Bicentennial Gathering in Concord (Massachusetts) in July 2017, at the ASLE-UKI conference in September 2017, at the Performing Mountain Symposium held at the University of Leeds in March 2018. She published an article in the European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment (Vol. 7, No. 2, 2016). She was a member of the organizing board for the 24th AISNA Biennial Conference “The US and the World We Inhabit” (Milan, September 28–30, 2017) and she is now part of the editorial board for a forthcoming volume by Cambridge Scholars. Frank Izaguirre is an ecocritic, writer, and scholar of environmental literature. One of his special fields of interest is the way in which field guides as a genre of writing have shaped our relationship to the environment. Most recently, he has published articles on Thoreau’s use of the senses in Walden



About the Contributors

and the environmental vengeance of army ants in José Eustasio Rivera’s The Vortex. Laura de la Parra Fernández is a fourth-year PhD candidate in English at Complutense University of Madrid, where she works as a research fellow and teaching assistant. Her research is fully funded by a four-year research grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on representations of women’s madness in World War II and Cold War US and UK fiction. She has been a visiting researcher at Birkbeck College, University of London and Harvard University. She has published several articles in scholarly journals on Janet Frame, Sylvia Plath, Anna Kavan and Jean Rhys. Jessica Roberts completed her PhD on Romantic-era medicine and the periodical press at the University of Salford before joining the English National Health Service (NHS) as an educator and course facilitator. She has published on contagious politics and diseases, and teaching literature and history of medicine in the NHS. She continues to be interested in the pedagogy and scholarly study of literature, science, and medicine, particularly focusing on the intersections of the gothic genre. Professor and musicologist, Laura Sanz García teaches at the Music and Performing Arts Faculty of Alfonso X el Sabio University (Madrid), since 2015. She was formerly lecturer in Carlos III University (Madrid), where she received her PhD in humanities in 2009. Licenciate in both humanities (UC3M, First National Graduation Award) and music history and sciences (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), she completed her studies with a master’s degree in gardening and landscape architecture (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, 2006). Ever since, her interdisciplinary research focuses on aesthetic relationships (synesthesias), and artistic correspondences, specially related to music and landscape. Hande Gurses received her PhD in Literary Studies from University College London. For her dissertation she worked on the representations of identity in the works of the Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Her most current research interest focuses on ecocriticism and animal studies. She is interested in the literary representations of animals and how they figure in the construction of national identities. She is co-editor of a volume titled Animals, Plants, and Landscapes: An Ecology of Turkish Literature and Film which will be published later this year by Routledge. She has joined the Comparative Literature Program of UMass Amherst in 2016 as part of the Scholars at Risk program. Currently she is a fellow with the Interdisciplinary Studies Institutes (ISI), a TIDE ambassador (Teaching for Inclusiveness, Diversity and

About the Contributors


Equity) and an active member of the Contemplative Pedagogy Working Group on campus. Pedro Miguel Carmona-Rodríguez, BA, MA, PhD, specialized in contemporary Canadian literature and critical theory at Universidad de La Laguna, where he teaches English. He is the author of En primera persona: nación género sexual y modos autobiográficos en ocho ficciones canadienses (2005) and Discourses of Dissent: Language, Silence and Transcultural Transit in Marlene NourbeSe Philip’s Writings (2011). He has recently edited issue 77 (November 2018) of Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses: “Canadian Fictions of Globality (forthcoming). Dr. Ryan Winet is lecturer at the University of Arizona, where he teaches courses on composition, literature, and creative writing. He holds a BA from the University of Southern California and an MFA and PhD from the University of Arizona. His research focuses on engagements between poetry and monuments, a topic that often involves the study of ekphrasis, collective memory and memory spaces, public sphere theory, temporality and ruins, and ecocriticism. Dr. Winet is also the illustrator of a graphic novel, The Parish (Beating Windward Press), and a former editor of The Offending Adam, an online journal of experimental poetics. He is currently at work on an essay about poetic responses to the Statue of Liberty as well as a collection of poetry. Leonor María Martínez Serrano works as a lecturer and researcher in the Department of English and German Philology at the University of Córdoba (Córdoba, Spain), where she pursued her doctoral studies and gained a PhD in Canadian literature and teaches courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level. She is a member of the research group Research in English and Related Literature at the University of Córdoba too. Her research interests include world poetry (European, American and Canadian poetry), Canadian literature, high Modernism, ecocriticism, First Nations and oral literatures, literary translation, and comparative literature. She has been a visiting scholar at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia (Canada), the University of the West of Scotland (UK) and the University of Bialystok (Poland). She has presented papers at a number of international conferences and published articles in different academic journals such as ES Review. Spanish Journal of English Studies, Odisea, Journal of English Studies, Verbeia, Ars Inter Culturas, Almirez, and GRETA Journal, as well as chapters in several edited volumes. Patrycja Austin is assistant professor at the Institute of English Studies, Rzeszów University, where she teaches English and postcolonial literature.


About the Contributors

In her current research she attempts to combine postcolonial theory with ecocriticism in the reading of contemporary authors. She has taken part in numerous international conferences across Europe and in India. She is a member of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. Peter Melville is associate professor of English at the University of Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada), where he specializes in romanticism, critical and cultural theory, and fantasy fiction. He is author of Romantic Hospitality and the Resistance to Accommodation (2007), Writing About Literature: An Introductory Guide (2011), and various articles published in Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Studies in the Fantastic, Studies in English Literature, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, European Romantic Review, Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, Mosaic, and The Dalhousie Review. Professor Méndez García teaches American literature at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Her doctoral dissertation, The Rhetorics of Schizophrenia in the Epigones of Modernism (2003) was based on her research as a visiting scholar at Harvard University, Massachusetts, in 2001–2002. She was a participant in the 2010 Study of the US Institute on Contemporary American literature at the University of Louisville, funded by the Spanish Fulbright program and the US Department of State. Current research and teaching interests include twentieth and twenty-first-century US literature, the counterculture in the US, minority studies (especially Chicana studies), and spatial studies. She was the lead researcher for the group Space, Gender and Identity in US Literature and Visual Arts: A Transatlantic Approach (Franklin Institute-UAH). She is the coordinator of a joint new MA program in American Studies (UCM-UAH). She has been a member of the International Committee of the American Studies Association (ASA) (2012–2015), associate dean for student affairs (2010–2014), and the managing editor of Atlantis, Journal of the Spanish Association of Anglo-American Studies (2009–2012). Mónica Martín is a research fellow in film at the Department of English Studies of the University of Zaragoza, Spain, where she is writing a doctoral thesis entitled “The Rebirth of Utopia in 21st-Century Cinema: Cosmoutopian Spaces, Protagonists and Politics at the Movies.” She is also teaching Film Analysis and working as a member of the research group Between Utopia and Armageddon: The Spaces of the Cosmopolitan in Contemporary Cinema, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education. She holds an MA in film studies from University College London. She has also been a student at King’s College London, Royal Holloway and the University of Roehampton.

About the Contributors


Paula Barba Guerrero is a PhD student working under the supervision of Dr. Ana Mª Manzanas Calvo at the University of Salamanca. Her thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach to examine the intersection of space, memory and identity in African American contemporary literature. Her research interests include ethnic and postcolonial literature, postmodernism and memory, space, border theory, vulnerability, and cultural studies. Víctor Junco has been teaching courses in film, cultural, American, and Chinese studies at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria since 1997. His PhD focused on the interaction between film and politics in Cold War America. He served as a member of the Executive Board of the American Association for American Studies (SAAS) from 2009 to 2013. He has coedited a volume on the tradition of dissent in US history. His research interests include film (especially US and Chinese cinema), comics, critical pedagogy, and gender studies. He has published articles in different journals, and is currently researching the relationship between the American and Chinese film industries. He has coordinated the Degree in Modern Languages at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria since 2010. Javier Martín-Párraga is associate professor at the Department of English and German studies at the University of Córdoba, Spain, where he obtained his PhD degree. His main fields of research focus on American literature, films and cultural studies. He has worked as visiting scholar at Wheaton College, United States; Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, United States; the University of Toronto, Canada; and several Polish universities. During September 2018, Professor Martín-Párraga was Visiting Fellow at Wellesley College, after receiving a competitive scholarship. His academic publications include five books, and numerous book chapters and articles in peer-reviewed academic journals. Some of his papers have appeared in prestigious academic houses such as DeGruyter; Cambridge Scholars or Comares, Visor or Complutense (top-tier publishing houses in Spain). He is also the editor of two journals.