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Ways of Reading Racialized Ecologies

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Organizer: Cheryl Lousley

Co-Organizer: Nandini Thiyagarajan

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Tania Aguila-Way and Zishad Lak, co-organizers
This seminar is on methods of reading literary texts that illuminate the racialized dimensions of the environment and climate change. Ian Baucom describes in History 4° Celsius how, as theorists of the Black Atlantic engage with the Anthropocene, a new method of literary study is required to both historicize the aesthetics and affects of modernity and attend to its intersections with planetary change and emergent forms of climate precarity. Similar questions but a different method arises in Min Hyoung Song’s Climate Lyricism, which reads the climate crisis in literary texts where those elements are not the primary focus but appear marginally and precariously alongside everyday experiences of structural racism and colonialism. Amitav Ghosh has argued that the extreme weather events driven by climate change can seem unrepresentable–and thus “unthinkable”–in realist narrative. Yet Song explores how poetic techniques for exposing the historical and material relations of race in everyday experience already provide insight into how social groups talk and do not talk about fossil fuels, climate, ecology, and their imbrication with social life and its inequalities. Lisa Lowe’s and Iyko Day’s literary scholarship on racial capitalism, in developing ways of reading for material relations of labour and place, also offer generative ways of reading for the climate and ecological upheavals that accompany the movements of capital and the racial formations of migrant labour and settlement. In his writing on decolonial ecologies, Malcom Ferdinand situates these upheavals in the context of conquest and transatlantic slavery by reordering the narrative plots of dominant myths and literary canons. Putting these strands of scholarship into comparative conversation, we invite papers that engage with the following questions: How is ecology materialized in literary texts that do not explicitly deal with the environment yet do engage with race and racialization? How might the habits of reading and noticing that these texts demand model new ways of thinking about the environmental crisis, and new tools to counter avoidance? How can literary methods which are oriented to everyday subjects (Song calls them lyrical) be fruitfully extended and complemented by historicizing methods that attend to the material production of environments, resources, and subjects through capital and technical expertise?
Baucom, Ian. History 4° Celsius: Search for a Method in the Age of the Anthropocene. Duke UP, 2020.
Day, Iyko. Alien Capital: Asian Racialization and the Logic of Settler Colonial Capitalism. Duke UP, 2016.
Ferdinand, Malcom. Une écologie décoloniale, Paris, Seuil, 2019.
Ghosh, Amitav. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. University of Chicago Press, 2016.
Lowe, Lisa. The Intimacies of Four Continents. Duke UP, 2015.
Song, Min Hyoung. Climate Lyricism. Duke UP, 2022.

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