HOTB2020 Panel 1.2: Media on the Brink



Panel 1.2: Media on the Brink

“The Eco-fascist Emergency: An Examination of Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy”

Caren Irr (Brandeis University)

“Reading the Anthropocene in Parasite (2019): Class, Society, and Climate Change”

Seon-Myung Yoo (Texas A & M University)

“‘This Place Is a Mess’: Atlanta’s ‘Woods’ and the Everyday Surrealism of Petro-Capitalist America”

Eric Dean Wilson (CUNY Graduate Center)

“Sounding the Environmental Benefits of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria””

Olusegun Stephen Titus (Obafemi Awolowo University)



Q & A

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6 replies
  1. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Thank you for your presentation, Seon-Myung! I’m a huge fan of Bong Joon-ho’s work and was excited to see your paper listed here! I appreciate your thinking through how to read texts ecocritically that are not centrally environmentally oriented.

    Your attention to the ongoing disastrous effects of the intersection of social class and environmental harm reminds me a great deal of Rob Nixon’s argument in Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. How do you see your argument in conversation with his book? I’m also curious about how you would place your hermeneutics of the Anthropocene in conversation with other work on environmental justice issues.

  2. Caren Irr says:

    Question for Eric Dean Wilson: I really enjoyed your thoughtful challenge to the (over?) valorization of Afro-futurism and your use of Kelley’s work on Afro-surrealism. The centrality of Richard Wright’s work to this narrative was notable. Since Wright is often described as a naturalist or an existentialist, can you say more about surrealist elements in his work and how or whether it is explicitly taken up by later writers or filmmakers in a surrealist vein? Also, I am wondering whether you see an engagement with petromodernity in his work.

    • Eric Dean Wilson says:

      Hi Caren!—and thank you for such a great question. I’m afraid I don’t have an answer sufficient or worthy of the thoughtful response—mostly because I’m not very familiar with Wright’s work beyond the major works and Kelley’s use of them in Freedom Dreams. A few things do come to mind, though.

      One is that, while reading Freedom Dreams, I encountered this mention of Wright’s work as in a surrealist tradition, I was totally surprised. Based on Black Boy and Native Son, I would have never guessed. Even Kelley anticipates the reader’s surprise. In a list of mid-century Black American artists that ends with Richard Wright, Kelley drops a line and writes, simply, “Richard Wright?”—as if to say, really? I would have to revisit Black Boy and Native Son, but, if memory serves, there’s little in those works that would make sense as surrealist.

      My mind immediately goes to James Baldwin’s essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” a provocative critique of Wright written when Baldwin was only 24, which claims Native Son’s Bigger Thomas as “Uncle Tom’s descendant, flesh of his flesh, so exactly opposite a portrait that, when the books are placed together, it seems that the contemporary Negro novelist and the dead New England woman are locked together in a deadly, timeless battle; the one uttering merciless exhortations, the other shouting curses.” Baldwin’s beef with Wright’s character was that, in being Uncle Tom’s inverse, Bigger was unable to break out of the binary of black/white, and so, succumbed to the stereotypes of sentimentality and race that are the hallmark of Stowe’s novel, and that perpetuate the violently dominant psyche of whiteness. (Again, at 24! I’m floored Baldwin could arrive at this idea so young.) While Baldwin admired Wright immensely—he was about two decades older than Baldwin—you’d never know from the essay, and its publication in Baldwin’s 1955 collection, its title a nod to Wright’s work, famously strained their relationship.

      All to say that, if you looked at only the most known of Wright’s works, surrealism doesn’t seem to influence the style much, though some critics have claimed otherwise. Wright himself wrote about its surrealistic elements in “How Bigger Was Born” But I find it borderline sentimental—or maybe naturalist, as you said. That, I think, was Baldwin’s trouble with it—it wasn’t, in a simplistic word, strange enough. In other words, it wasn’t human enough. Or perhaps what is surreal about it has nothing to do with the industrial environment (Chicago) Bigger finds himself in, or his racial identity—both elements that, to skip ahead 80 years, Donald Glover plays with in surrealist fashion.

      Another thing is that Kelley points out that much of the most explicitly surreal works of Wright are unpublished—archival, I assume—and I haven’t looked at any of these. I should, and it’s worth digging into them and strengthening these connections.

      The last thing I’d say is that political economy, and Wright’s leftist, anti-capitalist views might forge some stronger connections with surrealism and a (subtle) critique of petromodernity. I’d love to go back to Native Son and see whether the descriptions of Chicago read as petrodystopian 80 years later.

      That’s a ramble, but I hope it makes sense. In short, I’m not well-read in Wright’s life and work aside from Kelley’s handling of his legacy in Freedom Dreams, but your question reveals just how much more work on this could be done. Thanks!!

  3. Katie Reschenhofer says:

    @Olusegun Stephen Titus: Thank you for this engaging presentation. I learned a lot about musicology!
    I was wondering whether these Covid-19-relevant lyrics are being shared in specific spaces (be they in “real” life or on social media)? Because of the isolation situation, I can imagine that getting together to sing or get into an exchange about these lyrics must be rather difficult outside of the internet. Thank you!

  4. Eric Dean Wilson says:

    Just a brief comment for Caren Irr: Thank you for such an insightful talk on the Qatsi Trilogy. I’m inspired by how our two talks are in productive conversation, particularly in light of Malkin’s words about “becoming one people, one way.” (David Wojnarowicz, in “In the Shadow of the American Landscape” calls this the horror of the “illusion of the ONE-TRIBE NATION.”) I’ve often thought that the famed “blue marble” photograph that’s often narrativized as energizing the rise of what would later be seen as the dominant environmental movement in the US implies something problematic—this one world-ness. And it reflects the whiteness within that environmental movement at the time. I’m particularly drawn to your analysis of the “fluorescent whiteness” of the women against the Vegas backdrop. Seeing this through the lens of homogeneity/monoculture makes the film(s) particularly pernicious—and its exponential violence of homogeneous thinking to both human identity and the other-than-human world. Thanks!

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