You might expect a book on climate change to end with an illuminating contrast between the Papal Encyclical and the Paris Agreement, as Ghosh’s short and powerful analysis does. But you might be surprised that it starts with a question about contemporary novels: why is climate change in fiction relegated to science fiction rather than realist literary work? Climate change is neither speculative nor extra-terrestrial; we live with its consequences here and now. Similarly, supernatural powers that figured in myths and epics have been banished from most novels, where the protagonists are ordinary individuals, as if we are never subject to forces beyond our control. “The climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination,” Ghosh argues. We’re used to routine, not to the rare, improbable event. We’re used to being in charge. We’re used to building on seacoasts, so we continue to do so, despite disasters like Hurricane Sandy. Ghosh traces this anthropocentrism, and the resulting “derangement” in our relationship with the environment, to capitalism, as many have done, but he breaks newer ground by finding its roots in imperialism. His arguments are non-Eurocentric, his points direct and convincing. Finding the public sphere as focused on self-expression as today’s literature is, Ghosh looks to churches—accustomed as they are to a cosmic scale--to change our thinking. One day, he says, we’ll remember where we were when the Larsen B ice shelf broke up the way people now remember where they were on 9/11.
The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable - Amitav Ghosh
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Published: University of Chicago Press - September 14th, 2016
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Published: University of Chicago Press - July 24th, 2017