Tuesday, 30 June 2009
Friday, 26 June 2009
Monday, 22 June 2009
I want to suggest that links between climate change and stories are deeper rooted than this; that the story – any story – and the discourse of climate change are logical bedfellows. A story is constructed in language and unfolds over time; whether spoken or written it is particular to its teller and that teller’s locale; each retelling shifts its meaning, each new audience its interpretation; it charms and persuades; it has the power to captivate and bewitch. To consider climate change is also to consider language. The language used to describe the concept of climate change is itself contested – are we dealing with “global warming” or “global heating,” “climate change” or “climate catastrophe”? Are those displaced by a situation exacerbated by environmental factors “refugees,” “climate migrants,” or “forced climate migrants”? Climate change, as it is represented in scientific, popular scientific, journalistic or creative work, is also a matter of history, of unfolding. Climate science attempts to predict the future, with competing models vying for the greatest claim to accuracy. Campaigners rely upon sand timer models which implore both the public and the policymakers to appreciate that time is running out. Those that deny the scope of the human contribution to climate change do so through the suggestion that the past has been misunderstood, and the future misforecast. Popular scientific and journalistic discourse is filled with tipping points, apocalypses and imagined futures.
In this narrative landscape, of course our stories – poems, novels, plays, memoirs, essays – will approach issues of history, time and memory in an unprecedented way. While the formal revolutions of postmodernism created narratives in which time became uncertain, such strategies often resulted in a breaking of the narrative frame – we were invited to think again about the nature of storytelling, of the status of the story as a constructed, open ended work. Today, our narratives play with time in response to the overarching question of climate change – the priority has shifted from the storytelling itself, to the tale told, the message of the story, and the likely responses of the reader. This imagined future on the smallest scale – the future anticipated thoughts and actions of the reader of or listener to the narrative – is the point where storytelling meets activism. Stories have the advantage over scientific data in this respect. While science has the analytical tools to predict the future, beyond modelling it cannot imaginatively inhabit the future it predicts. This is where stories come in.
Andrew O’Hagan’s description of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as “The first great masterpiece of the globally warmed generation” is a problematic one due to the uncertain cause of the apocalypse it depicts, but it is interesting because is suggests a) that a new trend of fiction has arisen in response to our increased awareness of impending environmental catastrophe, and b) that there is a generation of the globally warmed – a generation that understands itself as such, that situates itself in history by association with an environmental predicament that is considered, in all discourses, as in part a matter of the control of time through accurate forecast and prediction. This is, then, an era in which our stories rethink issues of temporality in response to the discourse of climate change. In doing so, such stories take up imaginative residence in a future that science can predict, but cannot make vivid. To tell a story, as we agreed on Saturday, is to perform an action. But more than this, we are in an era that is, as a result of these journeys into the future, peculiarly self-reflexive. We look back at our present efforts to address climate change, to tell adequate stories about that process of change, with the critical eye of our imagined future selves. What we discovered on Saturday was that we all – as various kinds of storyteller – had an acute sense of our place in a globally warmed generation.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Monday, 8 June 2009
Timothy Morton, author of Ecology without Nature, is about to publish a prequel to that monograph, The Ecological Thought. A new series of films available on Morton’s youtube channel explains the concept of the “mesh” that is central to this new book. Combining literary history, linguistics, philosophy, biology, biochemistry and computer science, the book will use the mesh metaphor to explain the interconnectedness of elements of the “environment.” The latter term, according to Morton, is not to be trusted, replacing as it does the Romantic notion of Nature – both “environment” and “Nature” have to be unthought, he argues, in order for our interrelatedness with other elements of the world to be properly understood. Only after the repair of broken thinking can a way out of our present ecological predicament be found. Morton is a careful, comprehensive and generous-spirited thinker, a kind of emergency mechanic for broken thoughts, and his new book is hotly anticipated.
Friday, 5 June 2009
(Image: Miwok-Paiute ceremony, Yosemite Park, 1872)