Monday, December 28, 2015

Amitav Ghosh's new University of Chicago lecture series book on the Anthropocene -- nonfiction texts of four lectures last fall in the Berlin Family Lectures series at UC

The book is titled "The Great Derangement: [Pithy subtitle to be announced later]'' according to publishing sources in Chicago, with publication set for the fall publishing season of 2016.

The Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures were set up by two Jewish philanthropists in 2014 to bring to campus individuals who are making fundamental contributions to the arts, humanities, and humanistic social sciences. Each visitor offers an extended series of lectures and develops a book for publication with the University of Chicago Press.

More on the Berlins here: RE:
Melvin Berlin left college to marry Randy Lamm (his wife of over 60 years), and in 1957 formed his own company, selling commodities to food manufacturers and metal products to farm stores. In 1959, he entered a partnership with a metal service business. Some 8 years later, he bought his partner’s shares, becoming Berlin Metals. In 1987, he purchased a small distributor of rigid packaging containers based in the United States. Today, that company, Berlin Packaging LLC, has 60 locations worldwide. Melvin and his wife, Randy, a retired lawyer and currently a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, also support 20 post-combat Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

4 videos of Amitav Ghosh's recent Berlin Lectures on Global Warming in Septembr 2015 at the University of Chicago are now online

Amitav Ghosh

A Voice for the Anthropocene

Chrestomather | October 15, 2015 in Current Reading | Comments (1)

Because of my recently-concluded lecture series at the University of Chicago the Anthropocene has been much on my mind of late. It was serendipitous then that I happened to read Swimmer Among the Stars, Kanishk Tharoor’s debut collection of stories, at just this time.
Not that these stories address the Anthropocene as such: what caught my interest is the manner in which Tharoor breaks with the fictional conventions of this era. It is as though he were conjuring up possibilities that are better suited for times to come. 
Here is the first paragraph of the third story in the collection, A United Nations in Space:
In between sessions, the ambassadors come to the viewing vestibule and search the shadowed half of the earth. They crowd the portholes. Where once they might have seen the bright fuzz of cities and towns, now the dark patches are profound. It’s not simply a case of the electricity being cut, the lights winking out, the streets and homes rolled away. No, Kiribati thinks, it’s as if humanity’s white webs have been coloured black… a black more velvet than the night, continental in its spidery sprawl.
The story continues:
For months amidst its other work, the council has been trying to find a site where it might reinstall itself on earth. Bhutan’s offer of his mountain capital was initially welcomed, largely because the Himalayas seemed the most secure place in a world scoured by the oceans. But then the noise of war spread up the valleys, big countries growled at each other over glaciers, and little Bhutan demurred, saying that this might not be the best time to discuss the logistics of diplomatic license plates. Australia put herself forward, evoking the immensity of the continent, but the island was too remote for many members; one may as well be in near-earth orbit as in the Antipodes. The ambassadors debated the prospects of other sites, none proving palatable for the majority.
The characters in the story are identified only by the names of their countries: Bhutan, Botswana, Kiribati, Mexico. Tharoor refuses to individualize or characterize, in the usual sense; he refuses even to allow his characters any subjectivity. These refusals recur through the collection, like a series of fractures marking breaks in time. The effect is haunting and mysteriously powerful.
Equally striking is the presence of the non-human. The first story in the collection, Elephant at Sea, begins thus:
In the late summer of 1979, the Second Secretary of the Indian Embassy to Morocco received a cable that uprooted his considerable years of training and left him floundering. The message read simply: ‘Elephant en route’. Was it some sort of code? Further investigation only deepened his confusion. The cable had come from the customs office in Cochin, a port in the south of India. No, the customs officials reported back to him, it wasn’t code. It was an elephant – an elephant that along with its mahout, its driver, was now very much headed by ship to Casablanca. The Second Secretary probed: why send an elephant? Here at the customs office, the reply came, we handle only the movement of goods; for the movement of reasons, please refer your inquiry to the ministry of external affairs.
Not only are animals present in these stories, they are able to speak for themselves. In one story a stallion addresses a letter to his owner, who happens to be Afanasii Nikitin, the colourful Russian traveler who visited India in the 15th century and wrote The Journey Beyond Three Seas.
For me, you were given some sum. Not once did you stroke my mane, even though you liked admiring me from behind and feeling my muscular haunches. I know. My eyes are on the sides of my head, you see. I have a better sense of before and after than you do. Before me, there was only a man and his horse. After me will come textiles, coins, pepper, more coins, gems, slaves, more pepper and even more coins; you will do well in Hormuz and Ethiopia, be penniless by the time you get to Trebizond, shiver in Crimea. As you die of pneumonia on your way home to Tver, remember that at the beginning we were lonely together. You tried to ride me once, but fell off.
In these stories the nation state – that great motor of contemporary fiction – exists principally as a historical irony. Tharoor depicts a world of connections that both pre-exist and post-date nations: this is a universe in which the boundaries of the modern era have melted away; where Mexico dances with Luxembourg in a space station and she refuses his advances by saying: ‘I’m sorry… I can’t, no part of me can … even my desires feel weightless.’
Among the many refusals of Tharoor’s technique not the least is his evasion of the idea of determinate ‘periods’. Some of the stories slide sinuously over time, both recalling and reimagining the techniques of non-modern forms of fiction.
For a few centuries, many people decided to believe that a medieval Welsh prince sailed to america, discovering the continent long before Columbus. They dated his voyage to 1170… Several men in the seventeenth century claimed separately to have been saved by knowledge of Welsh. Captured by surly Indian tribesmen, they squealed for mercy in their mother tongue… Thomas Jefferson asked Meriwether Lewis to keep his eyes peeled for Indians who spoke Welsh.
Tharoor’s prose is finely wrought, filled with surprises and lexical treats. Here are a few excerpts from the story Icebreakers:
It takes only moments for an icebreaker in the Antarctic to come to the profound realisation that it can no longer break ice…
The captain breathes deeply from his inhaler. I should have known better, he thinks. Misled by weather forecasts and satellite imagery, he let his boat venture deep into the sea ice. Often, polar winds keep channels free, passages that Arctic and Antarctic sailors call polynyas (Russian is the language of ice). The captain steered his expedition down a known polynya, only to find it close around him…
In the Antarctic the silence is so total that even light carries sound.
Kanishk Tharoor is thirty-one; he is thus of the first generation to have come of age in the full awareness of the arrival of the Anthropocene. These stories give us a foretaste of some of the ways in which the uncanniness of the Anthropocene will express itself in years to come.
Swimmer Among The Stars announces the arrival of a writer who is gifted not just with extraordinary talent but also with a subtle, original and probing mind. 
[Swimmer Among The Stars is to be published in India by Aleph in January 2016, and in the UK and US by Picador and Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, in 2017].
- See more at:

 "The Great Derangement: Fiction, History, and Politics in the Age of Global Warming"
In 4 lectures over two weeks, Ghosh highlighted the literature, history, and politics of climate change. All four lectures were held at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago.

David Palumbo-Liu: I’ll end by asking you the typical question: what’s next?

Amitav Ghosh: Well, I’ve actually just sort of finished writing another book. I just did a series of lectures at the University of Chicago — they’re called the Berlin Lectures — and they’ll be published as a book. I finished the lectures last week.

David Palumbo-Liu:  Okay, and when will they be published?

Amitav Ghosh: Probably next year. [sometime in 2016]

David Palumbo-Liu: Do you want to tell us anything about it?

Amitav Ghosh:  They are basically on the Anthropocene, and especially what it signifies for fiction


Lecture One: Fiction I
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Logan Center for the Arts, Performance Hall

Lecture Two: Fiction II
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Logan Center for the Arts, Performance Hall

Lecture Three: History
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Logan Center for the Arts, Performance Hall
915 East 60th Street
5:30 p.m.

Lecture Four: Politics
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Logan Center for the Arts, Performance Hall
915 East 60th Street
5:30 p.m.

About Amitav Ghosh 

David Palumbo-Liu interviews Amitav Ghosh

The Opium Wars, Neoliberalism, and the Anthropocene

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He received his BA and MA from the University of Delhi followed by a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Oxford.

1 comment:


Update.... title is the great derangement... but subtitle has not been chosen yet.... Mr Ghosh and his editors still hammering out the subtitle. Nothing definite yet. Pub date is fall 2016