The sense of an ending in Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods

Jeanette Winterson’s 2007 novel, The Stone Gods, is a critique of progress. It juxtaposes two worldviews, the first an ethics of receptivity toward human and nonhuman others and the other the impulse toward technological mastery and endless economic growth. The novel therefore replays some contemporary debates around sustainability. Crucially, the novel also conflates social and sexual norms with literary form and, as such, offers both an ethics and aesthetics of sustainability. This rewriting of politics, ethics, and aesthetics in the name of sustainability destabilises the very category of novel. Beginning with a brief overview of debates around sustainability in order to show how these are replayed in the novel’s contrasting modes of sustainability and unsustainability, I explore some theories of the novel, particularly to studies of endings, which are so relevant to an analysis of Winterson’s alignment of sustainability with sexual and with narrative impulses, and particularly with romantic and narrative foreclosure. In analysing Winterson’s novel, I suggest that the result – the novel’s case for its own unsustainability – is borne out by its dénouement.

in Literature and sustainability
Concept, text and culture

Sustainability is a notoriously fraught and slippery term, and yet one that is now well-established in mainstream usage across the contemporary world. While sustainability is widely discussed and theorised across range of disciplines, this book sets out to consider what innovations literary scholarship might bring to the sustainability debate, and indeed what sustainability as a concept might bring to literary scholarship. Putting forward a range of essays by leading and upcoming scholars, this book takes a non-prescriptive and critically reflective stance towards the problem of sustainability – a stance we describe as critical sustainability. Essays in this collection accordingly undertake a range of approaches, from applying tools of literary enquiry in order to interrogate sustainability’s paradoxes, to investigating the ways in which literature envisages sustainability or plays out its tropes. Overall, this book seeks to demonstrate how sustainability’s difficulties might open up a productive opportunity for interrogation and exploration of the kind that literary scholars and ecocritics are ideally placed to carry out.