Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Think of your favorite environmental writers, and names like Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Terry Tempest Williams, and Gary Snyder may come up. But chances are you won’t bring to mind people like Wangari Maathai, Abdul Rahman, Arundhati Roy, or Ken Saro-Wiwa, even though they too have all tackled pressing environmental issues in their writing.
In the Chronicle Review, University of Wisconsin English professor Rob Nixon urges us to widen our reading list when it comes to environmental literature and criticism. He holds out for special disapproval the keepers of the canon—those college academics who teach environmental literary studies with a glaring lack of color in their curriculum, and a seeming lack of awareness of their on-campus kin in the humanities, postcolonial studies.
The distrust and ignorance cut both ways, contends Nixon, who makes his full case in his new book, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Right around the time of Saro-Wiwa’s execution in Nigeria in 1995—the steep price of his activism—the postcolonial literary theorist Edward Said dismissed environmentalism as “the indulgence of spoiled tree huggers who lack a proper cause.” His rancor was no doubt stoked by the fact that Saro-Wiwa’s writing was largely ignored amid the “unselfconscious parochialism” of environmental studies, as Nixon describes it. Writes Nixon:
Teachers—and students—of literature ought to start recognizing the writers who are chronicling the “slow violence” of environmental destruction worldwide, Nixon argues:
I hope this call to action finds a receptive audience in academia. In the meantime, I’ve got some reading to catch up on.
Source: Chronicle Review (article available only to subscribers)