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.

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Ecopoetics, enjoyment and ecstatic hospitality
Kate Rigby

3 Deep sustainability: ecopoetics, enjoyment and ecstatic hospitality Kate Rigby Mind the gap! In 2007 an article appeared in the science journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution with the witty title, ‘Mind the Sustainability Gap’. The gap in question refers especially to the ecological dimension of the sustainability agenda and concerns the chasm that continues to yawn ever wider between ‘what we know needs to be done and what is actually being done’ to avert catastrophic climatic and environmental change (Fischer et al. 2007: 621). While the authors

in Literature and sustainability
On last animals and future bison
Joshua Schuster

5 Sustainability after extinction: on last animals and future bison Joshua Schuster It has been well documented recently that there is a noticeable rise in the rate of extinction across all plant and animal kingdoms. Several conservation biologists have indicated that current extinction rates are now between 100 and 1,000 times expected or background rates of extinction.1 The rise of extinction rates in the past few hundred years can be situated in parallel to the rise of scientific knowledge concerning the history of extinctions that stretch from recent times

in Literature and sustainability
The sense of an ending in Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods
Adeline Johns-Putra

9 The unsustainable aesthetics of sustainability: the sense of an ending in Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods Adeline Johns-Putra Jeanette Winterson’s 2007 novel, The Stone Gods, is a critique of progress, both in the general sense of movement, journeying, or going forward, and in the specialised sense of human development, particularly the privileging of economic and scientific improvement that is often called the myth or narrative of progress. In the spirit of so many of Winterson’s novels, The Stone Gods places its several protagonists on journeys, most

in Literature and sustainability
Dana Phillips

7 Collapse, resilience, stability and sustainability in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy Dana Phillips Myths are the agents of stability, fictions the agents of change. Myths call for absolute, fictions for conditional assent. Myths make sense in terms of a lost order of time … fictions, if successful, make sense of the here and now. (Kermode 1967: 39) The good news is that the end is in sight. The bad news is that it’s not happy. The worse news is that it’s also not the end. (@neinquarterly, 5 February 2015) Collapse, resilience, stability and

in Literature and sustainability
The poetics of sustainability and the politics of what we’re sustaining
Matthew Griffiths

11 Jorie Graham’s Sea Change: the poetics of sustainability and the politics of what we’re sustaining Matthew Griffiths In her 2008 collection Sea Change, US poet Jorie Graham pursues a concern about how language can engage with and represent material force, a concern that has preoccupied her in previous work. But Sea Change marks a distinct development of this in two key respects: not only does Graham adopt and sustain a particular form throughout the book to explore the tension between word and world, her concerns also inform a number of pieces that refer

in Literature and sustainability
The paradoxes of sustainability and Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island
Hannes Bergthaller

10 A modest proposal for a less natural lifestyle: the paradoxes of sustainability and Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island Hannes Bergthaller Maggots in a box, or Our Common Future When I was about twelve or thirteen years of age, my family spent a long summer vacation at the holiday home of a relative in Spain. Upon our return, I went straight to the kitchen cupboard to fix myself a bowl of granola. I opened the tupperware container and gasped: it was filled to the brim with scaly, reddish-brown maggots. Not a writhing mass – as I remember them

in Literature and sustainability
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Sustainability, subject and necessity in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi
Louise Squire

12 Circles unrounded: sustainability, subject and necessity in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi Louise Squire Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize-winning Life of Pi (2002 [2001]) depicts the story of Pi, a boy who finds himself stranded on a lifeboat in the vast Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger. Having grown up in the setting of his family’s zoo in Pondicherry, Pi is faced with the loss of his family, who – on their way to a new start in Canada – go down with the ship, along with the remaining zoo animals. The central storyline, located in part 2 of the novel, is that of

in Literature and sustainability
Sustainability in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital trilogy
Chris Pak

8 ‘The shadow of the future made all the difference’: sustainability in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital trilogy Chris Pak Anthropogenic climate change and the approach of the peak-oil moment has encouraged many to think about alternative energy regimes that would provide a solution to the threat of economic collapse. While there is consensus amongst climate scientists that climate change is happening, contemporary thought about its specificities and solutions is subject to much debate. Fred Polak argues in The Image of the Future (1973) that

in Literature and sustainability
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Precedents to sustainability in nineteenth-century literature and culture
John Parham

2 Sustenance from the past: precedents to sustainability in nineteenth-century literature and culture John Parham Introduction: sustainability has no history In her 1980 book The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution, Carolyn Merchant argues both that ‘new social concerns generate new intellectual and historical problems’ and that ‘new interpretations of the past provide perspectives on the present and hence the power to change it’ (1980: xvi). While this offers a rationale for the study of ‘Victorian ecology’, the question of whether

in Literature and sustainability