Top Ten New Ecocriticism Books
Curated by: Surojit Kayal
Bodily Natures: Science, Environment and the Material Self, Stacy Alaimo. (2010)
How do we understand the agency and significance of material forces and their interface with human bodies? What does it mean to be human in these times, with bodies that are inextricably interconnected with our physical world? Bodily Natures considers these questions by grappling with powerful and pervasive material forces and their increasingly harmful effects on the human body. Drawing on feminist theory, environmental studies, and the sciences, Stacy Alaimo focuses on trans-corporeality, or movement across bodies and nature, which has profoundly altered our sense of self. By looking at a broad range of creative and philosophical writings, Alaimo illuminates how science, politics, and culture collide, while considering the closeness of the human body to the environment. (from Indiana University Press)
Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Rob Nixon. (2011)
The violence wrought by climate change, toxic drift, deforestation, oil spills, and the environmental aftermath of war takes place gradually and often invisibly. Using the innovative concept of “slow violence” to describe these threats, Rob Nixon focuses on the inattention we have paid to the attritional lethality of many environmental crises, in contrast with the sensational, spectacle-driven messaging that impels public activism today. Slow violence, because it is so readily ignored by a hard-charging capitalism, exacerbates the vulnerability of ecosystems and of people who are poor, disempowered, and often involuntarily displaced, while fueling social conflicts that arise from desperation as life-sustaining conditions erode.
In a book of extraordinary scope, Nixon examines a cluster of writer-activists affiliated with the environmentalism of the poor in the global South. By approaching environmental justice literature from this transnational perspective, he exposes the limitations of the national and local frames that dominate environmental writing. And by skillfully illuminating the strategies these writer-activists deploy to give dramatic visibility to environmental emergencies, Nixon invites his readers to engage with some of the most pressing challenges of our time. (from Harvard University Press)
Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, Mel Chen. (2012)
In Animacies, Mel Y. Chen draws on recent debates about sexuality, race, and affect to examine how matter that is considered insensate, immobile, or deathly animates cultural lives. Toward that end, Chen investigates the blurry division between the living and the dead, or that which is beyond the human or animal. Within the field of linguistics, animacy has been described variously as a quality of agency, awareness, mobility, sentience, or liveness. Chen turns to cognitive linguistics to stress how language habitually differentiates the animate and the inanimate. Expanding this construct, Chen argues that animacy undergirds much that is pressing and indeed volatile in contemporary culture, from animal rights debates to biosecurity concerns.
Chen’s book is the first to bring the concept of animacy together with queer of color scholarship, critical animal studies, and disability theory. Through analyses of dehumanizing insults, the meanings of queerness, animal protagonists in recent Asian/American art and film, the lead in toys panic in 2007, and the social lives of environmental illness, Animacies illuminates a hierarchical politics infused by race, sexuality, and ability. In this groundbreaking book, Chen rethinks the criteria governing agency and receptivity, health and toxicity, productivity and stillness—and demonstrates how attention to the affective charge of matter challenges commonsense orderings of the world. (from Duke University Press)
The Multispecies Salon, Eben Kirksey (Editor). (2014)
A new approach to writing culture has arrived: multispecies ethnography. Plants, animals, fungi, and microbes appear alongside humans in this singular book about natural and cultural history. Anthropologists have collaborated with artists and biological scientists to illuminate how diverse organisms are entangled in political, economic, and cultural systems. Contributions from influential writers and scholars, such as Dorion Sagan, Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, are featured along with essays by emergent artists and cultural anthropologists.
Delectable mushrooms flourishing in the aftermath of ecological disaster, microbial cultures enlivening the politics and value of food, and nascent life forms running wild in the age of biotechnology all figure in this curated collection of essays and artifacts. Recipes provide instructions on how to cook acorn mush, make cheese out of human milk, and enliven forests after they have been clear-cut. The Multispecies Salon investigates messianic dreams, environmental nightmares, and modest sites of biocultural hope. (from Duke University Press)
The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Anna L. Tsing. (2015)
Matsutake is the most valuable mushroom in the world—and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests across the northern hemisphere. Through its ability to nurture trees, matsutake helps forests to grow in daunting places. It is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it sometimes commands astronomical prices. In all its contradictions, matsutake offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms and addresses a crucial question: what manages to live in the ruins we have made?
A tale of diversity within our damaged landscapes, The Mushroom at the End of the World follows one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more. These companions also lead us into fungal ecologies and forest histories to better understand the promise of cohabitation in a time of massive human destruction.
By investigating one of the world’s most sought-after fungi, The Mushroom at the End of the World presents an original examination into the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on earth. (from Princeton University Press)
The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media, John Durham Peters. (2015)
When we speak of clouds these days, it is as likely that we mean data clouds or network clouds as cumulus or stratus. In their sharing of the term, both kinds of clouds reveal an essential truth: that the natural world and the technological world are not so distinct. In The Marvelous Clouds, John Durham Peters argues that though we often think of media as environments, the reverse is just as true—environments are media.
Peters defines media expansively as elements that compose the human world. Drawing from ideas implicit in media philosophy, Peters argues that media are more than carriers of messages: they are the very infrastructures combining nature and culture that allow human life to thrive. Through an encyclopedic array of examples from the oceans to the skies, The Marvelous Clouds reveals the long prehistory of so-called new media. Digital media, Peters argues, are an extension of early practices tied to the establishment of civilization such as mastering fire, building calendars, reading the stars, creating language, and establishing religions. New media do not take us into uncharted waters, but rather confront us with the deepest and oldest questions of society and ecology: how to manage the relations people have with themselves, others, and the natural world.
A wide-ranging meditation on the many means we have employed to cope with the struggles of existence—from navigation to farming, meteorology to Google—The Marvelous Clouds shows how media lie at the very heart of our interactions with the world around us. Peters’s book will not only change how we think about media but provide a new appreciation for the day-to-day foundations of life on earth that we so often take for granted. (from The University of Chicago Press)
The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Amitav Ghosh. (2016)
Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.
The extreme nature of today’s climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; Ghosh shows that the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictory and counterintuitive elements.
Ghosh ends by suggesting that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit fiction and politics to individual moral adventure comes at a great cost. The climate crisis asks us to imagine other forms of human existence—a task to which fiction, Ghosh argues, is the best suited of all cultural forms. His book serves as a great writer’s summons to confront the most urgent task of our time. (from The University of Chicago Press)
Waves of Knowing: A Seascape Epistemology, Karin Amimoto Ingersoll. (2016)
In Waves of Knowing Karin Amimoto Ingersoll marks a critical turn away from land-based geographies to center the ocean as place. Developing the concept of seascape epistemology, she articulates an indigenous Hawaiian way of knowing founded on a sensorial, intellectual, and embodied literacy of the ocean. As the source from which Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) draw their essence and identity, the sea is foundational to Kanaka epistemology and ontology. Analyzing oral histories, chants, artwork, poetry, and her experience as a surfer, Ingersoll shows how this connection to the sea has been crucial to resisting two centuries of colonialism, militarism, and tourism. In today’s neocolonial context—where continued occupation and surf tourism marginalize indigenous Hawaiians—seascape epistemology as expressed by traditional cultural practices such as surfing, fishing, and navigating provides the tools for generating an alternative indigenous politics and ethics. In relocating Hawaiian identity back to the waves, currents, winds, and clouds, Ingersoll presents a theoretical alternative to land-centric viewpoints that still dominate studies of place-making and indigenous epistemology. (from Duke University Press)
Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age, Nicole Seymour. (2018)
Activists today strive to educate the public about climate change, but sociologists have found that the more we know about alarming issues, the less likely we are to act. Meanwhile, environmentalists have acquired a reputation as gloom-and-doom killjoys. Bad Environmentalism identifies contemporary texts that respond to these absurdities and ironies through absurdity and irony—as well as camp, frivolity, irreverence, perversity, and playfulness.
Nicole Seymour develops the concept of “bad environmentalism”: cultural thought that employs dissident affects and sensibilities to reflect critically on our current moment and on mainstream environmental activism. From the television show Wildboyz to the short film series Green Porno, Seymour shows that this tradition of thought is widespread—spanning animation, documentary, fiction film, performance art, poetry, prose fiction, social media, and stand-up comedy since at least 1975. Seymour argues that these texts reject self-righteousness and sentimentality, undercutting public negativity toward activism and questioning basic environmentalist assumptions: that love and reverence are required for ethical relationships with the nonhuman and that knowledge is key to addressing problems like climate change.
Funny and original, Bad Environmentalism champions the practice of alternative green politics. From drag performance to Indigenous comedy, Seymour expands our understanding of how environmental art and activism can be pleasurable, even in a time of undeniable crisis. (from University of Minnesota Press)
A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Kathryn Yusoff. (2019)
No geology is neutral, writes Kathryn Yusoff. Tracing the color line of the Anthropocene, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None examines how the grammar of geology is foundational to establishing the extractive economies of subjective life and the earth under colonialism and slavery. Yusoff initiates a transdisciplinary conversation between black feminist theory, geography, and the earth sciences, addressing the politics of the Anthropocene within the context of race, materiality, deep time, and the afterlives of geology. (from University of Minnesota Press)