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Strange Natures

Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Strange Natures
    Book Description:

    In Strange Natures , Nicole Seymour investigates the ways in which contemporary queer fictions offer insight on environmental issues through their performance of a specifically queer understanding of nature, the nonhuman, and environmental degradation. By drawing upon queer theory and ecocriticism, Seymour examines how contemporary queer fictions extend their critique of natural categories of gender and sexuality to the nonhuman natural world, thus constructing a queer environmentalism. Seymour's thoughtful analyses of works such as Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues , Todd Haynes's Safe , and Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain illustrate how homophobia, classism, racism, sexism, and xenophobia inform dominant views of the environment and help to justify its exploitation. Calling for a queer environmental ethics, she delineates the discourses that have worked to prevent such an ethics and argues for a concept of queerness that is attuned to environmentalism's urgent futurity, and an environmentalism that is attuned to queer sensibilities.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09487-3
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction: Locating Queer Ecologies
    (pp. 1-34)

    Strange Natures identifies a tradition of queer environmentalism in contemporary fictions: I find that novels and films generally categorized as queer—including Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993), Todd Haynes’s Safe (1995), Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005), and Shelley Jackson’s Half Life (2006)—explicitly link the queer to the natural world through an empathetic, ethical imagination. These works understand oppressed humans (including working-class individuals and people of color, in addition to queers) and oppressed non-humans (degraded landscapes, threatened natural resources, and other flora and fauna) to be deeply interconnected, and they promote politicized advocacy on behalf of both. My focus...

  6. 2 Post-Transsexual Pastoral: Environmental Ethics in the Contemporary Transgender Novel
    (pp. 35-70)

    In a prefatory note for the 2003 edition of the 1993 queer literary landmark Stone Butch Blues, author Leslie Feinberg recounts that

    at the eleventh hour when the novel was almost due at the publisher’s, I tore up the ending and set out to create a new character, Ruth. I [culled from a friend] … memories about the tiny rural community of Vine Valley where she was raised. We took a trip there to meet and talk with people whose lives are rooted in the vineyards. As a result, I was able to write Ruth … from the immersion pool...

  7. 3 ʺItʹs Just Not Turning Upʺ: AIDS, Cinematic Vision, and Environmental Justice in Todd Haynesʹs Safe
    (pp. 71-104)

    Released in 1995, writer-director Todd Haynes’s Safe quickly became associated with the 1990s boom in American independent film and, more specifically, with what B. Ruby Rich dubbed the “New Queer Cinema”: the “wave of queer films that gained critical acclaim on the festival circuit in the early 1990s” (Aaron 3). Safe falls squarely between two other works in Haynes’s oeuvre that feature the same basic premise: a suburban white woman suffocates under social and structural pressures. In fact, Safe, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987), and Far from Heaven (2002) evoke 1940s and 1950s “women’s films” such as Mildred Pierce...

  8. 4 ʺRanch Stiffsʺ and ʺBeach Cowboysʺ in the Shrinking Public Sphere: Sexual Domestication in Brokeback Mountain and Surf Party
    (pp. 105-146)

    Director Ang Lee’s 2002 film Brokeback Mountain offers a rather unglamorous conclusion to its lovers’ initial dalliances. Having parted ways with Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) after meeting him on a seasonal sheepherding gig in rural Wyoming, Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) darts into an alleyway and begins to vomit. We might read his reaction as a sign of lovesickness, as disgust over his recent same-sex encounters, or as anxiety over the prospect of reentering town and getting married to his fiancée Alma (Michelle Williams)—or all of the above. In any case, our attention soon shifts from this individual’s private...

  9. 5 Attack of the Queer Atomic Mutants: The Ironic Environmentalism of Shelley Jacksonʹs Half Life
    (pp. 147-179)

    Since the 1940s, Western cultural producers have imagined myriad new organisms that U.S. nuclear technology might produce, from giant ants (1954’s Them!), to shrinking humans (1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man), to creatures that steal human brains and spinal cords (1958’s The Fiend without a Face).¹ Shelley Jackson’s 2006 novel Half Life imagines a politicized minority population of conjoined twins. One of these twins, Nevada-born twenty-eight-year-old San Franciscan Nora Olney, serves as the novel’s ostensible narrator. We are privy to her innermost thoughts and neuroses as her madcap quest for the removal of her comatose twin, Blanche, unspools. In the affirming...

  10. Conclusion: The Futures of Queer Ecology
    (pp. 180-186)

    In rereading contemporary queer novels and films as environmentalist polemics, I have argued that queer literature is environmental literature for how it grapples with the natural. As I have shown, the queer ecological fictions in my archive cannot take “the natural” at face value, because of how it has frequently been used against the queer, but nor can they reject “the natural” because of how it encompasses the threatened non-human world. Thus they must carefully explicate, negotiate, and reconfigure it. I have shown how this task is informed by intellectual heuristics unique to the contemporary period—from the anti-identitarianism of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 187-198)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-210)
  13. Index
    (pp. 211-220)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-222)