HOTB2020 Panel 5.2: Unsettling Alterity, Unsettling Environments



Panel 5.2: Unsettling Alterity, Unsettling Environments

“The Soul, The Snake, The White Road: Adelaide Crapsey’s Translations of Cherokee Incantations”

Lucien Darjeun Meadows (University of Denver)

“Every Town Our Hometown/Every Man a Kinsman”

K. Abilasha (Sri S. Ramasamy Naidu Memorial College)

“Naming Asian American Environmental Literature in an Era of Environmental Crisis”

Karen Siu (Rice University)



Q & A

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7 replies
  1. Judith Wakeman says:

    Hello K. Alibasha. Thankyou for your thought proving presentation. I will be looking for the YA books by Deepak Dahal and the books on eco-criticism, as well as the issues relating to tourism and the Jarawa people. Best wishes

  2. Paula Wieczorek says:

    Hi Lucien, Abilasha and Karen! Thank you for your insightful presentations! I really enjoyed them. Lucien, I find it truly interesting how Crapsey’s translations interrogate the dominant perceptions of Native Americans.
    Karen, I appreciate your discussion concerning non-humans experiencing diaspora alongside Asian American immigrants. Very thought-provoking! Your presentation made me think about the effects of climate change on human and non-human migration patterns.
    Abilasha, thank you for your introduction to Deepak Dahal’s novels. I was unfamiliar with his works. Could you recommend me some other books concerning the environment/ social injustice/ feminism by Indian authors writing in English who are not as popular as e.g. Amitav Ghosh or Arundhati Roy? I am also wondering whether the environment represented in Dahal’s works could be described in terms of the “(non-existent) Other”?
    Thank you!

    • Karen Siu says:

      Hello Paula! Thank you so much for your kind comment. How climate change effects human and non-human migration patterns is something that Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being focuses on, but I don’t draw out all the intricacies here. The novel’s transpacific setting highlights the migration of human and nonhuman characters and the transpacific as a vast space between different countries that has been traversed to emigrate. The novel specifically emphasizes what exists in the transpacific, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and its effects on the migration patterns of nonhuman beings.

    • Lucien Darjeun Meadows says:

      Thank you, Paula! With so many Euroamerican and non-Indigenous translators adopting infantilizing and/or Othering stances in their translations of Native poetries, I was surprised and delighted to see how Crapsey, even as a white New Englander, moved toward translating from a much more inclusive perspective. (And, then, very intrigued by how these translations are rarely discussed in Crapsey scholarship.) I am grateful to you for your time in watching and thinking about my presentation — wado!

  3. Jessica Hurley, George Mason University says:

    Hi Karen, such a pleasure to encounter your new work in this terrific talk! Like Paula, I found your formulation of animals and plants as diasporic very interesting – I’ll be thinking about that concept for a while. One aspect of this that jumped out at me in your reading of Oliver’s climate change project in A Tale for the Time Being was that these trees are diasporic not only in space, as beings that are not “native” to the PNW, but also in time, as beings that used to be “native” to the PNW, haven’t been for a long time, but with the coming climate changes will be again (if I recall correctly, Oliver’s argument is that they are in fact native species, just not for right now). This also seems to resonate with the intergenerational timescale that Lahiri constructs by using the family form to structure her narrative in The Lowlands. I’m wondering how this understanding of diaspora as something that takes place beyond the timescale of a human life might inflect, or be inflected by, its emergence from within Asian American literature? Since problems of environmental representation are so often problems of scale, how might the particular affordances of Asian American literature help us to apprehend the emergencies of the present?

    • Karen Siu says:

      Hello Jessica, so nice to hear from you! Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I think that the formulation of animals and plants as diasporic in both time and space really becomes clear in that moment of Ozeki’s novel which you allude to. The very first description of Oliver’s climate change forest immediately follows a passage in which Ruth reveals that her name, when pronounced in Japanese, means “not at home.” The formal choice by Ozeki to place the climate change forest with its supposedly non-native trees right after details of Ruth’s struggles with Asian American diaspora puts these two instances of not being at home, or not being “native,” into dialogue with one another. This moment in the novel, I think, helps us by serving as a reminder that climate change does not exist or occur in isolation, but rather, it resonates with and in other issues, which in this case is the Asian American diaspora. Discussions and questions on nativeness, belonging/unbelonging, and foreignness have a long tradition in Asian American Literature that so often focuses on immigrant characters. What is innovative about Ozeki’s novel is that these questions of what does it mean to be “native” and what does it mean to be “not at home,” while commonplace in Asian American literature, are now being applied to nonhuman beings. Applying Asian American conceptualization of diaspora to nonhuman beings allows us to better understand what is happening in our current emergencies, namely that the migration patterns of many nonhuman species have already been altered by climate change.

      Preservationalist environmental strategies imply keeping nature the same, determining what “native” is, and protecting these “native” inhabitants. However, what time then are we working to preserve, especially when nature is already changing due to climate change? When we advocate for environmental preservation, are we attempting to keep or fix nature as it is in our own timescales? The environmental strategy put forward in Ozeki’s novel moves away from this by accounting for nonhuman diaspora and the survival of nonhuman beings beyond the timescale of human life. This kind of environmentalism is not anthropocentric. As Oliver states about his climate change project, “he nor any of his contemporaries would ever live to witness [it], but he was okay with not knowing…he accepted his lot as a short-lived mammal, scurrying in and out amid the roots of the giants.”

      On the problems of environmental representation that are so often problems of scale, I think Asian American Literature is particularly well-suited to help us apprehend our present emergencies because immigrant and diasporic narratives understandably abound with global concerns of environment, space, and time. Characters in both novels, for example, Subhash, whose work in The Lowland concentrates on oceanic pollution, and Ruth and Oliver in A Tale for the Time Being who discuss on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch at length. These two novels depict the pollution occurring between nations, that is the pollution in these oceanic or transpacific spaces have no specific nation to which they belong, which is similar to the status of Asian Americans as in-between Asian and American. For Subhash, he is concerned about the environment at his home in Rhode Island, the environment of his ancestral home in Kolkata, India, and all the oceanic pollution that separates these two seminal places for him. Similarly, as Asian Americans, Ruth and Nao’s identities are not restricted to a single country or region. They are both Japanese Americans who become connected by the Pacific Ocean. What characters are better to stage concerns about the transpacific, oceanic pollution (i.e. the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) than transpacific beings, Asian Americans? The scale of environmental concerns in Asian American Literature is then understandably global given that diasporic characters in both these novels undergo global movements and thus their environmental concerns stretch not only from their homelands, but all the way to their current/new homes.

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