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Sustainability, subject and necessity in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is not about sustainability per se. Rather, it might be said to reflect certain tensions characteristic of sustainability as a concept of our time. In particular, it replicates the way sustainability exceeds itself as a concept or sign, reaching as it does to link the subjective human with the world beyond grasp. Indeed, sustainability frames the (environmental) problem as a human problem, addressing our actions in the present with view to ensuring the wellbeing of future humans and nonhumans. This essay accordingly reads Yann Martel’s Life of Pi as performing the tension between phenomenology and the speculative real. Applying David Wood’s notion of eco-phenomenology, it examines the novel’s use of various narrative techniques to depict protagonist Pi as either constrained by, or going beyond, a so-called correlationist engagement with the nonhuman world as he secures his own future. Alongside this, the essay reflects on the novel’s evocation of necessity and its commentary on the possible costs incurred in the quest for a sustainable world.

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.