Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Postcolonial Ecocriticism: A Preliminary Reading List

Two things motivate me in this blog post: first, I put together a small unit on postcolonial ecocriticism last fall in my Modernism/Postcolonial grad seminar, which turned out to be surprisingly effective for the students in the class. Second, I attended a panel on Postcolonial Ecocriticism at MLA earlier this month in Seattle.

In effect, most of the following is not necessarily material I've already read -- but stuff I want to read. If readers come across this list and would like to add their own suggestions, I would encourage people to use the comments function, or hit me up on Twitter (@electrostani).

1. In my grad seminar, we had been looking at books like E.M. Forster's Howards End, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, and Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland. I had only intended The Lowland to be informed by postcolonial ecocritical thinking, but perhaps not surprisingly, we also had conversations about climate change -- more accurately, climate justice -- with those other books as well. Howards End is in part a book about the dreariness of polluted London and the value of rootedness and the local against the dehumanizing effects of transnational capitalism. The God of Small Things, for its part, has a surprising amount of concern for the ecosystem of the Kerala town where it is set -- including the river at the center of the plot -- which we see grow increasingly polluated as the novel moves forward in time from the late 1960s to the 1990s. It's not hard to see the seeds of Roy's later activism on issues like big dams anticipated by this novel; indeed, her essay, "The Greater Common Good," contains a critique of the rhetoric of the "big" and gestures towards resistance in small measures:
We have to support our small heroes. (Of these we have many. Many.) We have to fight specific wars in specific ways. Who knows, perhaps that’s what the 21st century has in store for us. The dismantling of the Big. Big bombs, big dams, big ideologies, big contradictions, big countries, big wars, big heroes, big mistakes. Perhaps it will be the Century of the Small. Perhaps right now, this very minute, there’s a small god up in heaven readying herself for us. Could it be? Could it possibly be? It sounds finger-licking good to me. (link)
The touchstone for our conversations was Rob Nixon's Slow Violence, Or the Environmentalism of the Poor, which is a remarkable book in many ways. It both worked as an introduction and as a roadmap for students who might want to go further -- with writers like Ken Saro-Wiwa, Wangari Maathai, Indra Sinha, and many others who we couldn't fit on our syllabus last fall.




Nixon's own bibliography is also instructive for people entering into this field. Some of the citations that seemed especially important were the following:

Ramachandra Guha, “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique,” Environmental Ethics
11 (1989): 71–83
Ursula Heise, “Afterword,” in Postcolonial Green: Environmental Politics and World Narratives, ed. Bonnie Roos and Alex Hunt (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press), 2010.
Wai Chee Dimock and Lawrence Buell, eds., Shades of the Planet: American Literature as World Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 12. For an excellent example of such cross-border genre thinking, see Rachel Adams, “At the Borders of American Crime Fiction,” in Dimock and Buell, Shades of the Planet, 249–273.
Elizabeth DeLoughrey, “Heliotropes: Pacific Radiations and Wars of Light,” in Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment, ed. Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); and Susie O’Brien, “Survival Strategies for Global Times,” Interventions 9 (2007): 83–98. 

There's a lot of interesting material here; titles like Postcolonial Ecologies and Postcolonial Green suggest that there's already quite a bit of interest in bringing these two areas of study together. 

2. At the MLA panel I attended in Seattle this past January, there was quite a bit more on tap. Here are some of the books I heard talked about by the speakers on that panel:   

Ursula K. Heise, Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Nikhil Anand’s Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). An ethnography of Mumbai’s water infrastructure. Colonial history of water supply. 
https://www.amazon.com/Hydraulic-City-Infrastructures-Citizenship-Mumbai/dp/0822362694

Jennifer Wenzel, Columbia U, The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature (Fordham University Press, Forthcoming).

Laura L. Wright, Routledge. Wilderness in Civilized Shapes: Reading the Postcolonial Environment (University of Georgia Press,, 2010). The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror (University of Georgia Press, 2015).
Laura Wright, one of the speakers on the panel, also referenced Leila Gandhi's chapter on “meat” in this book:


Several speakers referenced a book by Evan Maina Mwangi, called The Postcolonial Anima; African Literature and Posthuman Ethics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2019).

Priscilla Solis Ybarra, Writing the Good Life: Mexican American Literature and the Environment (2016). 

Cajetan Iheka, Naturalizing Africa: Ecological Violence, Agency, and Postcolonial Resistance in African Literature. (Cambridge UP 2018) 

Upamanyu Pablo Mukherjee, Postcolonial Environments: Nature, Culture and the Contemporary Indian Novel in English. (Palgrave 2010)



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