The unsustainable aesthetics of sustainability
The sense of an ending in Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods
in Literature and sustainability

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.

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Literature and sustainability

Concept, text and culture

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