A contrarian view of Amitav Ghosh's "new" climate-themed essays: it's brilliant, it's stimulating, it's thought-provoking, but it misses the mark. Ghosh's new book began life as a set of four lectures, presented at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2015, but they have been amplified, explanded and rewritten to create this new and brilliant book!
UPDATE: Dr Ghosh's new book *does* mention 'cli-fi'. But Amitavji's focus was mainstream literary fiction and he did not consider Barbara Kingsolver or Nathaniel Rich or Ian McEwan or his pal Margaret Atwood to be in the mainstream when he was writing it. He can explain later.
SEE REVISED REVIEW
by staff writer with agencies
60-year old Indian public intellectual Amitav Ghosh, married to American writer Deborah Baker (with two bi-cultural children) and with homes in both India and Brooklyn, examines ''the inability'' at the level of literature, history and politics to grasp the scale and violence of climate change in his ''new'' book, edited from four lectures he gave at the University of Chicago last fall with the stipulation in his contract that the Univeristy Press release he lectures as as a nonfiction book, although greatly expanded, amplified and rewritten. The lectures were titled THE GREAT DERANGEMENT and so is this "book."
It is his first major book of nonfiction since 1992. The 4 lectures he gave in 2015 are available on YouTube. Anyone may view them.
"The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable", was published in INDIA first by Penguin Books imprint Allen Lane, under a publishing rights arrangement with the University of Chicago Press, according to industry sources in Manhattan. A USA edition with a different cover will be released in September. The Indian edition is available now on Amazon.in
And yes, this brilliant, stimulating, masterful analysis serves as Ghosh's summons to confront the most urgent task of our time: man-made global warming and its future impacts on the world's 8 billion people! While his main thesis is that there are no climate-themed novels published in India or the West, in fact in the last ten years hundreds of cli-fi novels have exploded on the scene in the USA and UK, Australia and New Zealand, too, and yet Dr Ghosh -- who is aware of the cli-fi term and even said in an email to this blogger that he likes the term and thinks "it's a fitting term for certain [climate-themed] novels in the West" [in an email in 2014] such as Flight Behavior and Odds Against Tomorrow and Solar, he does briefly mention the cli-fi term in this book. He certainly had an opportunity to say that while climate-themed novels are often relegated to the sidelines, he does not note that, in fact, these cli-fi novels are now appearing and being reviewed in major sites in the West. In India, yes, nothing. But in the West, these climate-themed books area huge trend now. Dr Ghosh did not see it coming. Perhaps he will remark on his later on. It's up to him.
That climate change casts a much smaller shadow within the landscape of literary fiction than it does even in the public arena is not hard to establish, the author says, adding to see that this is so one needs to only glance through the pages of a few highly-regarded literary journals and book reviews. But: Look at Slate, Salon, The LA Review of Books, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald. The West now has dozens of journals and newspapers reviewing and discussing cli-fi novels and movies.
True, India has ignored cli-fi until now. Maybe things will change with Dr Ghosh's new book and his clarion call for more climate-themed novels.
"When the subject of climatic change appears in these publications, it is almost always in relation to non-fiction; novels and short stories are very rarely to be glimpsed within this horizon," he argues. He's wrong however. While his main thesis is that there are no climate-themed novels published in India or the West, in fact in the last ten years hundreds of cli-fi novels have exploded on the scene in the USA and UK, Australia and New Zealand, too.
"Indeed, it could even be said that fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously by serious literary journals; the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or a short story to genre fiction. It is as though in the literary imagination climate change were somehow akin to extraterrestrials or interplanetary travel."
Again he's so wrong! While his main thesis is that there are no climate-themed novels published in India or the West, in fact in the last ten years hundreds of cli-fi novels have exploded on the scene in the USA and UK, Australia and New Zealand, too.
Ghosh says he too had been preoccupied with climate change for a long time, but it is true of his own work as well, that this subject figures only obliquely in his fiction. See? He himself is guilty of what he accuses others of doing. Yet he could very well write a cli-fi novel if he wanted. Someday he will!
"In thinking about the mismatch between my personal concerns and the content of my published work, I have come to be convinced that the discrepancy is not the result of personal predilections: it arises out of the peculiar forms of resistance that climate change presents to what is now regarded as serious fiction."
Are we deranged? Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so.
The extreme nature of today's climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. But Dr Ghosh is so wrong! Look at Nathaniel Rich's ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW published in 2013 and subject of a big NPR story that year. And look at Kim Stanley Robinson's new cli-fi novel titled "New York 2140" to be released on March 21, 2017 about a Manhattan half-submerged by rising sea levels caused by major storms and freakish weather! Dr Ghosh, you missed the boat here.
In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has
sometimes led to gross simplifications; Ghosh shows that the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictory and counterintuitive elements.
Ghosh ends by suggesting that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit fiction and politics to individual moral adventure comes at a great cost.
The climate crisis asks us to imagine other forms of human existence - a task to which fiction, Ghosh argues, is the best suited of all cultural forms.
According to the author, climate change also poses a powerful challenge to what is perhaps the single-most important political conception of the modern era: the idea of freedom, which is central not only to contemporary politics but also to the humanities, the arts and literature.
He says the lack of a transitive connection between political mobilisation, on the one hand, and global warming, on the other, is nowhere more evident than in countries of South Asia, all of which are extraordinarily vulnerable to climate change.
"In the last few decades, India has become very highly politicised; great numbers take to the streets to express indignation and outrage over a wide range of issues; on television channels and social media, people speak their minds ever more stridently. Yet climate change has not resulted in an outpouring of passion in the country," he writes.
Yes, that is because in INDIA, the literary circles have yet to take up the clarion call of cli-fi literature and it's a pity. The sooner they do, the sooner backward India will join the modern world.
"This despite the fact that India has innumerable environmental organisations and grassroots movements. The voices of the country's many eminent climate scientists, environmental activists and reporters do not appear to have made much of a mark either," he adds. Yes, because the literary circles and media minions do not care on bit about the rise of cli-fi novels in the West.
While his main thesis is that there are no climate-themed novels published in India or the West, in fact in the last ten years hundreds of cli-fi novels have exploded on the scene in the USA and UK, Australia and New Zealand, too. Let's see what Dr Ghosh says in September when he books appears in the USA and the UK.