Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Back in 2006, Derrick Jensen wrote,

A few years ago I began to feel pretty apocalyptic. But I hesitated to use that word, in part because of those drawings I’ve seen of crazy penitents carrying “The End is Near” signs, and in part because of the power of the word itself. Apocalypse. I didn’t want to use it lightly.

But then a friend and fellow activist said, “What will it take for you to finally call it an apocalypse? The death of the salmon? Global warming? The ozone hole? The reduction of krill populations off Antarctica by 90 percent, the turning of the sea off San Diego into a dead zone, the same for the Gulf of Mexico? How about the end of the great coral reefs? The extirpation of two hundred species per day? Four hundred? Six hundred? Give me a specific threshold, Derrick, a specific point at which you’ll finally use that word.”  – Endgame Vol. 1 p. 3 (excerpt available here)

This question of statistics, degrees, and thresholds is an important one, and the gradual nature of the changes we are living through is part of why so many have been so complacent for so long.  Rhetorically, the inability to covey the seriousness of the problems in a powerful way without sounding like one is over-reacting is part of why thinktanks and energy companies have been so successful at sowing mistrust of climate science (and all science), and how the financial industry and their media mouthpieces have hoodwinked people into the ongoing belief that they are what John Steinbeck supposedly called “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

The ongoing, multi-faceted crisis, which will lead to a dramatic change in how we live, lacks a singular event and, therefore, doesn’t feel apocalyptic the way we have been taught to expect it to.  This apocalypse, and I’ll use the word, lacks the theatrical, dramatic elements that make everyone stop and pay attention.  However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

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Thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake by way of wilderness and post-apocalyptic genre traditions
"Snowman wakes before dawn"

“Snowman wakes before dawn” – Oryx and Crake fan art by Jason Courtney
More images: http://www.perdador.com/f6update/illustration_f9.html

I gave a guest lecture yesterday on Oryx and Crake for a colleague’s 200-level Environmental Literature course.  My presentation was organized around the ways that the book participates in genres, challenges some of  their conventions, and updates the “classic” dystopia (WeBNW, 1984, et cetera) by moving the locus of power from the centralized state to a more nebulous net of corporations and their mercenaries.

Because nearly any lower-level survey of environmental literature will necessarily include readings drawn from the mostly-American, white male-dominated, wilderness tradition, my prep also involved looking for ways to connect what is going on in Oryx and Crake with those texts that students had recent familiarity with.  I’m not sure how well the lecture worked in setting this up, but the result was something that, in retrospect, seems quite obvious.  However, I hadn’t previously fleshed it out, which was kind of weird (I guess wilderness writing hasn’t been on my mind much recently).  My main take away point is this:  Post-apocalyptic protagonists share a number of traits with protagonists or narrators of the wilderness genre.  This has interesting implications for connecting a reading of Snowman in Oryx and Crake to both genres.

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