Fiction and the carbon economy

The concept of imaginative fatigue in the Anthropocene presents a kind of heady platform for lighting into all kinds of literary corruption and gatekeeping issues that are holding the rising waters in place, out of view or at least off the page:

This makes itself evident in the paucity of fiction devoted to the carbon economy, something the Brooklyn-based Indian writer Amitav Ghosh addresses in his marvelous recent book, The Great Derangement, writing, “When the subject of climate change occurs . . . it is almost always in relation to nonfiction; novels and short stories are very rarely to be glimpsed within this horizon.” Ghosh, who has depicted the precarious ecology of the Sundarban mangrove forests of Bengal in his novel, The Hungry Tide, says that this absence has to be “counted as an aspect of the broader imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of the climate crisis,” a failure so pervasive that he calls our era, “which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness . . . the time of the Great Derangement.”

I agree with the reviewer that any discussions about the ‘ravages of the carbon economy’ would necessarily include story lines on the failure of capitalism. And talk about a contrivance. Who would believe that? Perhaps at no point have we ever been so self-hemmed in – constrained by our own no-go areas. Does any writer today imagine Zola or Hugo, or Anatole France or, good grief Racine, adhering to such constraints? Is it only fear? Will the publishers and agents love us no longer? What then? Asking for a friend of the fate of the world.

Image: Author photo of the flooded Seine, June 2016.

Back to the Well, again

Someone, a person unknown to me, at the ______ last night asked me to name my favorite book. Typical _____-talk. After a few beats, I said it was really four – Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. This is from Justine, opened at random to page 108. By the way, I can’t find this text  anywhere on the internets, which feels like a kind of theft in reverse, were that possible.

They were drifting, Melissa and he, across the shallow blood-red waters of Mareotis, in each other’s arms, towards the rabble of mud-huts where once Rhakotis stood. He reproduced their conversations so perfectly that though my lover’s share was inaudible I could nevertheless hear her cool voice, could deduce her questions from the answers he gave her. She was desperately trying to persuade him to marry her and he was temporizing, unwilling to lose the beauty of her person and equally unwilling to commit himself. What interested me was the extraordinary fidelity with which he reproduced this whole conversation which obviously in his memory ranked as one of the great experiences of his life. He did not know then how much he loved her; it had remained for me to teach him the lesson. And conversely how was it that Melissa had never spoken to me of marriage, had never betrayed to me the depth of her weakness and exhaustion as she had to him? This was deeply wounding. My vanity gnawed by the thought that she had shown him a side of her nature she kept hidden from me.

Now the scene changed again and he fell into a more lucid vein. It was as if in the vast jungle of unreason we came upon clearings of sanity where he was emptied of his poetic illusions. Here he spoke of Melissa with feeling but cooly, like a husband of a king. It was as if now that the flesh was dying the whole funds of his inner life, so long dammed up behind the falsities of a life wrongly lived, burst through the dykes and flooded the foreground of his  consciousness. It was not only Melissa either, for he spoke of his wife – and at times confused their names. There was also a third name, Rebecca, which he pronounced with a deeper reserve, a more passionate sorrow than either of the others. I took this to be his little daughter, for it si children who deliver the final coup de grace in all these terrible transactions of the heart.

Mm hmm.