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Speaking Before the Environment: Modern Fiction and the Ecological

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Abstract

Artaud said: to write for the illiterate. . . . But what does 'for' mean? It is not 'for their benefit,' or yet 'in their place.' It is 'before.' It is a question of becoming. We think and write for animals themselves. We become animal so that the animal also becomes something else. The agony of a rat or the slaughter of a calf remains present in thought not through pity but as a zone of exchange between man and animal in which something of one passes into the other. This is the constitutive relationship of philosophy with nonphilosophy. . . . The artist or philosopher is quite incapable of creating a people, each can only summon it with all his strength. A people can only be created in abominable sufferings, and it cannot be concerned any more with art or philosophy. But books of philosophy and works of art also contain their sum of unimaginable sufferings that forewarn of the advent of a people. They have resistance in common—their resistance to death, to servitude, to the intolerable, to shame, and to the present. By way of introduction to this special issue of Modern Fiction Studies I want to take the opportunity to foreground some problems now facing ecocriticism in the fields of literary, cultural, and geographical studies as they are presently structured, and by extension the environmental movement as manifested in its current conditions of possibility.1 Though ecocriticism as a discipline within the humanities has yet to take on the significance of gender studies, race relations, or postcolonialism, it nevertheless has mushroomed in the last ten years or so and continues to grow in popularity, no doubt in part as a response to the growing public awareness of the planet's increasingly threatened environments. The potential of this flourishing critical activity signals a promising turn in ecological attitudes and importance. However, one must also consider the academic period in which this expansion now takes place—namely the waning of postcolonial studies in favor of a more generalized global studies,2 and the widespread erosion of philosophical inquiry (namely poststructuralist theory) alongside the subsequent ascension of various criticisms that could be loosely placed under the umbrella of cultural studies. These attritions will have an effect on the future of ecocriticism, and potentially foreclose the resources offered by contemporary critical inquiry from environmental studies and the environmental movement. Two resources that I want to consider here are structural-ontological analysis and the problem of representation. Representation has never been taken for granted by poststructuralist inquiry. This critical awareness becomes especially important when one considers that the worst form of aggressive politics functions by conveniently overlooking the important fact that language is not transparent. Even environmental representation cannot claim a privileged lucidity, otherwise its struggle for politicization may end up supporting the unchecked movement of capital as we saw with the turning of underrepresented struggles into marketable identity politics with the institutionalization of multiculturalism. The question of representation is also one of the central concerns of modern fictions. Joseph Conrad, for instance, foregrounds the limitations of representation—especially in relation to colonial spaces and environments—in each of his narratives. The inability of Marlowe to find an adequate means of representation lies at the center of the narrative of Heart of Darkness and other Conrad novels such as Lord Jim, Nostromo, and Victory. Interestingly enough the environment itself serves as the key vehicle for foregrounding this impossibility of representation in each of these works. In Heart of Darkness Marlowe describes the land as "featureless," "empty," and a "wilderness" that contributes to Kurtz's madness (29, 34, 83). Victory's Axel Heyst's failure to establish an adequate system of representation has such an effect on his being that he cannot step beyond the cultivated enclosure of his isolated outpost of empire into the indigenous environment of the island forest in the Malay Archipelago: "In front of Heyst the forest, already full of the deepest shades, stood like a wall" (341). Conrad's novels are particularly interesting in terms of an ecological (and of course, postcolonial) critique for their contradictory engagement with unfamiliar environments. On the one hand, the narratives foreground...

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... Recent work in the postcolonial environmental humanities (DeLoughrey 2011;Didur 2006Didur , 2011Didur , 2012Marzec 2009;Mukherjee 2010;Nixon 2011;Huggan and Tiffin 2010;Vadde 2009) seeks to reconcile what appear to be unexamined humanist strands of cosmopolitan thinking with efforts to reorient its anthropocentrism via communities historically designated less than human (Black, Indigenous, queer, people of color). Cosmopolitanism is intrinsically problematic, since it is rooted in a humanism that privileges certain individuals as more human than others and neglects the agency of nonhumans. ...
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... 2). The Hungry Tide appears as exemplary text inHuggan and Tiffin's (2007) framing of the special issue of Interventions on 'Green Postcolonialism' (and revised into their book on Postcolonial Ecocriticism) andMarzec's (2009) framing of the special issue of Modern Fiction Studies on 'Modern Fiction and the Environment', as well as providing the exemplary reading for the chapter on 'Post-colonial' ecojustice' inClark's (2011) The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment, while being one of the four novels engaged inMukherjee's (2010) Postcolonial Environments: Nature, Culture and the Contemporary Indian Novel in English. 2.Bose (2006: 2) begins his exploration of 'Space and Time on the Indian Ocean Rim' with reference to the tsunami: 'The unity of the Indian Ocean world had been demonstrated in the most tragic fashion by a great wall of water moving at the speed of a jet aircraft'. ...
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This article traces the cosmopolitan structures Amitav Ghosh retrieves from the medieval Indian Ocean world and those he forges along the South Asian littoral in an era of climate change in the narrative works In an Antique Land and The Hungry Tide. Both turn to the Indian Ocean and its coastal delta in search of the permeability that characterises the littoral and the syncretic and/or dialogic cultural and life forms emerging along it, which stand in contrast to geopolitical boundaries and species borders. In this social, political and ecological space they locate a cosmopolitanism that interweaves, elaborates and exceeds the three principle threads in cosmopolitan thought. Reconceiving cosmopolitanism from the South in the ‘Anthropocene Age’, Ghosh – it is argued – pushes beyond the political limits of the ‘citizen of the world’ while immersing this concept in the mud of a local – sticky yet fluid – ecosystem.
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A History of the Indian Novel in English traces the development of the Indian novel from its beginnings in the late nineteenth century up until the present day. Beginning with an extensive introduction that charts important theoretical contributions to the field, this History includes extensive essays that shed light on the legacy of English in Indian writing. Organized thematically, these essays examine how English was “made Indian” by writers who used the language to address specifically Indian concerns. Such concerns revolved around the question of what it means to be modern as well as how the novel could be used for anti-colonial activism. By the 1980s, the Indian novel in English was a global phenomenon, and India is now the third largest publisher of English-language books. Written by a host of leading scholars, this History invites readers to question conventional accounts of India's literary history.
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