Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

First Advisor

Rita Barnard

Abstract

This dissertation examines contemporary literary depictions of climate change induced disasters through a South–South axis, exploring the resonances and dissonances between environmentalisms of the U.S. regional South and the global South. There are two driving factors for developing this framework. Within literary studies, numerous thinkers have, rightly, emphasized the asymmetrical relations between the global North and global South: historically, not only have countries from the North disproportionately contributed to the climate crisis, but they tend to funnel environmental toxicity into the “remote” South. I argue, however, that the resulting view of “the North” as destructive monolith often brushes past the unequal impacts of environmental violence within the North, obscuring the possibility of reading its marginalized regions in relation to the global South. This oversight, in turn, inhibits us from examining the shared histories, alliances, and imaginaries that exist between the regional South and the global South. My project attends to this discursive gap through a series of South–South comparative readings, with each pairing linked to a specific manifestation of climate disaster, such as hurricane, drought, and extinction.

In my project, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and Monique Roffey’s Archipelago model the complex temporalities of hurricanes, dislocating them from their typical associations with the swiftness of punctual violence. Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife and Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book tap into the scalar versatility of the bildungsroman form to communicate the developmental dynamics that lead to and exacerbate the conditions of megadrought in the Anthropocene. Linda Hogan’s Power and Henrietta Rose-Innes’s Green Lion craft a new literary technique to enact the ripple effects of keystone species extinction. Through a reading of Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God, my coda on “hope” reflects on how storytelling can help us actualize ecologically just futures. My project thus illustrates how writers and activists working in anti-colonial contexts theorize and represent specific experiences of climate disaster, and it articulates the anti-imperial strategies of survival that cut across geopolitical borders. Most importantly, this comparative approach enables us to more fully reckon with the simultaneously global and uneven dimensions of the climate crisis.

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