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Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction

Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment and Affect

Series: Literature Now
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction
    Book Description:

    The 1970s brought a new understanding of the biological and intellectual impact of environmental crises on human beings, and as efforts to prevent ecological and human degradation aligned, a new literature of sickness emerged. "Ecosickness fiction" imaginatively rethinks the link between ecological and bodily endangerment and uses affect and the sick body to bring readers to environmental consciousness.

    Tracing the development of ecosickness through a compelling archive of modern U.S. novels and memoirs, this study demonstrates the mode's crucial role in shaping thematic content and formal and affective literary strategies. Examining works by David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, Leslie Marmon Silko, Marge Piercy, Jan Zita Grover, and David Wojnarowicz, Heather Houser shows how these authors unite experiences of environmental and somatic damage through narrative affects that draw attention to ecological phenomena, organize perception, and convert knowledge into ethics. Traversing contemporary cultural studies, ecocriticism, affect studies, and literature and medicine, Houser juxtaposes ecosickness fiction against new forms of environmentalism and technoscientific innovations such as regenerative medicine and alternative ecosystems.Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fictionrecasts recent narrative as a laboratory in which affective and perceptual changes both support and challenge political projects.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53736-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Ecosickness
    (pp. 1-30)

    Carol White and Laura Bodey are under assault. These white, middle-class women inhabit contrasting geographies of the late twentieth-century United States—a manicured suburb of Los Angeles and a nowhere town in middle America—but these distinctions melt away when chemicals infuse them. Cumulative exposures to everyday products like perfumes, dry cleaning fluid, shampoos, and new furniture that were meant to beautify and sanitize their lives have instead poisoned them. Carol and Laura diminish moment by moment, and they are cut off from the future. Chronic rather than terminal, Carol’s environmentally induced ailments are incrementally debilitating rather than deadly. Asthma...

  5. 2 AIDS Memoirs Out of the City: DISCORDANT NATURES
    (pp. 31-76)

    If the 1970s seemed to confirm a narrative of biomedical progress due to an explosion of vaccines and novel procedures like in vitro fertilization, the next decade brought one of biomedicine’s most formidable obstacles. The first cases of HIV/AIDS were diagnosed in 1981, and their intractability shook the confidence of epidemiologists and pharmaceutical researchers. Technoscience could not invent the tools to curb, much less eradicate, this emerging infectious disease in time to prevent massive loss of life. Undaunted, countless scientists attempted to tackle all dimensions of HIV/AIDS, from its pathology and epidemiology to treatment and public health policy. One of...

  6. 3 Richard Powers’s Strange Wonder
    (pp. 77-116)

    In a 1672 letter to the Secretary of the Royal Society of London, Isaac Newton reports his observations of how a prism transforms light:

    It was at first a pleasing divertissement to view the vivid and intense colours produced thereby; but after a while applying myself to consider them more circumspectly, I became surprised to see them in an oblong form; which … I expected should have been circular…. Comparing the length of this colored spectrum with its breadth, I found it about five times greater, a disproportion so extravagant that it excited me to a more than ordinary curiosity...

  7. 4 Infinite Jest’s Environmental Case for Disgust
    (pp. 117-166)

    In 2008 WWF (formerly World Wildlife Fund for Nature) developed a campaign around two horrors of climate change: devolution and mutation. In the year when “change” became an unavoidable buzzword as part of Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, the environmental group revised the word’s connotations to include devastation and unsettling alterations to the essence of life. Commissioned by WWF, Belgian advertising firm Germaine offered a commentary on the fate of humanness in the face of unabated climate change (figure 4.1). Adapting to rising sea levels and a new aquatic environment, humans have morphed into a chimerical life-form: a fishman. The...

  8. 5 The Anxiety of Intervention in Leslie Marmon Silko and Marge Piercy
    (pp. 167-216)

    Standing in the twenty-first century, it’s clear that the “age of anxiety” that W. H. Auden declared in 1947 is still with us. But some things have changed. In the wake of World War II, writers looked to the inventions of total war, notably to nuclear weaponry, when composing their visions of technological anxiety. In the last decades of the millennium, nuclear worry does not disappear, but it cedes some ground to concerns about techniques for radically altering so-called nature. Biotechnologies that transform life take center stage; they change the world not through the spectacular blast but through gradual reconfiguration...

  9. Conclusion: HOW DOES IT FEEL?
    (pp. 217-228)

    My days start like those of many news-hungry “internauts,” with a peek at the headlines that Google Reader aggregates. There’s no front page here. Google collects, and I select. Do I first unlock the folders that hold stories of international climate aid, environmental policy analysis, and the latest medical breakthroughs and warnings? Or do I scan the items under “culture”: book reviews and miscellany, essays fromLos Angeles Review of Books, and interviews fromThe Believer? The banality of this ordinary habit is deceptive. Seemingly about gaining quick information about the day’s events, it in fact unleashes a...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 229-268)
    (pp. 269-294)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 295-314)