Issue 10: Post-Apocalyptic Waste. Edited by Steve Asselin, Matthew Crofts, and Janine Hatter

Issue contents

Editor's Introduction

Steve Asselin, University of Winnipeg and Matthew Crofts, University of Hull,

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Water as Conduit, Complex Metaphor, and Capitalistic Annihilator in the Works of Ron Rash and Natasha Trethewey

Jill Goad, Shorter University

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Contemporary American writers Ron Rash (1953-) and Natasha Trethewey (1966-) seem to have little in common aside from writing about the past and present American South. Rash, a poet and novelist, is known for portraying the beauty and violence of southern Appalachia and for his characters who fight the land, their circumstances, and each other. Trethewey’s poetry is situated in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and she focuses on her personal memories and stories of black southerners whose stories have not been told. The theoretical framework most applied to Rash’s novels, poetry, and short fiction is ecocritical. In contrast, while Trethewey frequently discusses natural disasters and environmental changes in her poetry and non-fiction, ecocritical approaches comprise only a small portion of Trethewey scholarship, leaving room for more extensive assessment. Discussing these two writers together in an ecocritical framework permits an analysis of multiple common links between Rash and Trethewey that have not been explored, such as their focus on the American South as ‘kill spaces’ and their works’ themes of environmental exploitation and the destructive power of capitalism. In this article, I focus on the significance of water in literary landscapes, the natural element most prevalent in both writers’ works. Ecotheorist Janine MacLeod’s ‘Water and the Material Imagination: Reading the Sea of Memory Against the Flows of Capital’ (2013) provides a framework for reading Rash’s One Foot in Eden (2002) and Saints at the River (2004) and Trethewey’s Native Guard (2006). MacLeod argues that water can and must simultaneously be viewed positively and negatively as a conduit between past and present, and living and dead, and as a force of nature and a commodity (2013: 57). Applying MacLeod’s framework to Rash’s and Trethewey’s work affirms that water as a motif embodies the killing power of capitalism but complicates this connection given water’s associations with history, power, and emotion. Ultimately, this article finds that Rash and Trethewey call attention to the ways human-led changes to nature disproportionately affect communities with little political and economic power. Inextricably tied to this issue are the lost lives and stories in these communities that Rash and Trethewey seek to recover.

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‘A chilling story from today’s headlines:’ Community, Maritime Apocalypse and Discourses of Eco-Dystopia’s in Doomwatch (1972)

Mark Fryers, The Open University

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Spun-off from the preceding and pioneering BBC eco-disaster television series of the same name, Doomwatch (1972) is an early British cinematic example of environmental disaster. It elegiacally imagines a British island irrevocably despoiled by industrial pollution, offering a microcosm for the British Isles. As such, and as this article will demonstrate, it is thematically significant in giving audio-visual expression to cultural fears and concepts of eco-dystopia. Furthermore, this article will elaborate that the film is culturally bound in a circular relationship between the TV series that inspired it and the era’s headlines which similarly prefigured environmental catastrophe. In the 1970s, Doomwatch became a lexigraphical shorthand for the horror of impending environmental destruction.

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Re-Enchantment with the Waste of the World: Expressing Futures and Representing Wastelands in Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide

Julia Perczel, University of Manchester

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As a result of environmental advocacy of the previous decades, the harms caused by e-waste conjure up images of hellish wastelands. The images had provided fertile ground for cli-fi writer Chen Qiufan’s novel Waste Tide (2019) to reimagine what it might be like to live among humongous piles of electronic waste. The author elaborates this vision based on the experiences of a short visit to Guiyu, China’s most notorious e-waste processing site. He explores what will happen if humanity’s day-to-day reliance on electronic devices is to increase and lead to electronic prosthetics implanted in bodies, making electronics almost into biological waste but without the possibility of breaking down in nature. The present article explores how facts and fiction bleed into each other. Rather than exploring how Chen’s narrative builds on real life, it sets about to peel back the layers of imagination that make up the e-waste problem. The article turns the gaze to environmental advocacy reports as generative spaces of science fiction imagination, which had been instrumental at imbuing e-waste with a dark charisma. E-waste stories become useful sites to examine how narratives of climate breakdown, conceived to provoke action, provide a case for a dark re-enchantment with the world. This is only a problem inasmuch as the same narratives that work well in mobilising people may become the foundation for ill-fitting laws. Reflecting on my ethnographic fieldwork in Delhi, another well-publicised informal e-waste processing site, this article raises the questions: to what extent has the threat of e-waste’s toxic harm been conceived of in futuristic imaginations? And how do texts and narratives colour and prefigure academics’ and practitioners’ experience of the world?

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‘Our Hands are Dirty:’ Using Waste to Respond to Environmental Apocalypse in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad

James Cochran, Hartwick College

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This essay considers the relationship between the ‘hygienic imagination,’ waste, and climate change in Jennifer Egan’s 2010 novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. I argue that Egan’s variety of wastelands – from the September 11th attacks, to punk rock metaphors of filth, to a future environmental dystopia – offer a critique of a hygienic imagination which transforms homogeneity, utility, and ethnocentric understandings of personal cleanliness into ethical goods indicative of personal worth. In such a definition of hygiene, the fear of interacting with waste leads to the neglect of people and places identified as waste. Egan’s novel, conversely, invites readers to think about waste, to look at waste, and to get their hands dirty, instead of ignoring and excluding waste as matter that threatens our existence.

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Anthropocene Aesthetic Shifts in Post-Apocalyptic Literature: An Analysis of Waste and the Sublime in Maureen F. McHugh’s After the Apocalypse

David Lombard, University of Liège and University of Leuven

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This article explores ‘apocalyptic waste’ in seven short stories from Maureen F. McHugh’s 2011 collection After the Apocalypse. McHugh (1959-) is a contemporary U.S. sci-fi and fantasy writer, whose fiction depict dystopian scenarios as varied as a China-dominated America, a sexist futuristic Morocco, and pandemics. Building on recent developments in theories of the sublime and waste aesthetics, this essay examines deployments of the notions and vocabularies of waste and the sublime in McHugh’s narratives as rhetorical strategies for representing the characters’ encounters with non-human others (zombies, human-like dolls, AI, and bio-batteries), or their experiences of traumatic events (bombings, family trauma) echoing our Anthropocene/Capitalocene moment. Coupled with its attention to the characters’ sensory perception and affects, this article’s analyses show that post-apocalyptic fiction is a fruitful site for exploring the shifting conceptual and aesthetic destinies of waste and the sublime and their relevance as critical concepts to the environmental humanities.

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Cinematic Waesthetics: Wasted Worlds, Wasted Lives and Becoming-Waste in Contemporary Science Fiction Film

Nicolai Skiveren, Aarhus University, Denmark

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This article explores the aesthetic, affective, and epistemological connections that bind together science fiction (SF) as a genre of cognitive estrangement, and the varied forms of waste that have come to permeate the genre’s filmic depictions of the future. Whether it be in the shadowy alleyways of Blade Runner 2049 (2017), the shantytowns of District 9 (2009), or the ravaged environments of Idiocracy (2006), waste is always there, lurking in the background, enveloping its human and nonhuman subjects with its elusive yet distinct atmosphere. And yet, it remains unclear what purpose(s), if any, waste might serve within these film-worlds. Because despite the seemingly central place that waste occupies in our cultural imaginaries of the future, no one has yet presented a systematic reflection on its affective, symbolic, and narrative significance. This article therefore brings together writings on ecological SF (Caravan 2014) and critical waste studies (Bauman 2004; Hawkins 2005; Viney 2014) to scrutinize the waste found across the above SF films. The article proposes that waste in contemporary SF film can be seen to operate mainly within three overlapping modes: ‘Wasted worlds,’ ‘Wasted lives,’ and ‘Becoming-waste.’ Drawing especially on Adrian Ivakhiv’s tripartite model for an eco-philosophy of the cinema, this article calls attention to the often subtle ways in which waste participates in (i) cinematic world-building, (ii) representations of otherness, and (iii) depictions of radical forms of change. Taken together, these three modes represent a suggestive image of how waste forms part of contemporary SF film.

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Plentiful Desolations: Anthropocentric Bias and the End-World Ecologies of H. G. Wells and William Hope Hodgson

Steve Asselin, University of Winnipeg

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This article argues that the notion of a wasteland is determined by anthropocentric concerns over the human use-value provided by any given environment which are then overlaid by moral and aesthetic judgments, rather than recognizing the inherent value of the robust ecosystems that exist in these supposedly desolate environments. To demonstrate this, I turn to two extreme examples of fictional wastelands: the end-of-the-world, as imagined by fin de siecle authors H. G. Wells and William Hope Hodgson. The Time Machine and The Night Land are fantasies of Deep Time, in which the planet has been transformed into a supposed waste gradually enough to permit adaptation. The anatomically modern human narrators who venture into these far-future environments make use of the longstanding notion of a wasteland as hostile to human inhabitation and cultivation and overlay it with the newer conception of the wasteland as a desolation hostile to life altogether in their descriptions of the environments. Yet beneath their condemnatory language they acknowledge the presence and even the peril posed by the lifeforms that populate this environment, revealing the existence of ecosystems within the wastes. Additionally, they encounter forms of humanity that have evolved in tandem with the landscape and are suited to these environmental conditions, though they are at pains to condemn these alterations on humanity as monstrous degenerations. Both authors craft their narratives with inherent challenges to the reliability of their narrators, opening up the possibility of reading past the anthropocentric prejudices of the narrators to see the described environments as holding intrinsic value. Indeed, the destruction the narrators wreak upon the landscape and their inhabitants demonstrates the consequences of labelling an environment as a wasteland, as it places these characters in a false position of physical, moral, and aesthetic superiority.

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An Uncanny Pilgrimage through the Wastescapes of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: Synchronic Time and Revenant Metaphorical Thinking

Susan Morrison, Texas State University

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The waste-ridden novels, The Rings of Saturn (W.G. Sebald 1995) and The Road (Cormac McCarthy 2006), stage nightmarish spaces. In Sebald’s world, synchronic time – a sign of the disconcerting linkage of present with past – creepily implicates the reader for atrocities committed long ago. A mysterious apocalypse of grey ash burnishes McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic biosphere, eerily emptied of anything organic. Building on the work of waste theorist Véronique Bragard, I argue that each novel imagines how the very vibrancy and agency of matter with which characters are enmeshed sustains the world metaphorically. Revenant metaphors and similes – such as that of pilgrimage – yoke sacralised memory with a profaned present, stirring the imagination in often-weird pairings, both disturbing and animating. Revenant metaphorical thinking conjures forth synchronic links between past and present to gesture ambiguously to a reanimated future.

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Where Home is Hell: Grapholects of the Apocalypse

Catherine Morris,

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In literature, the use of dialect, or its written form, grapholect, is primarily used to represent how someone speaks, conveying where characters come from, while also playing into negative stereotypical socio-linguistic biases. This article will consider “A Story of the Days to Come” (1899) by H. G. Wells, and Riddley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban, written nearly one hundred years apart but similarly utilising British working-class dialects to graphically convey their degraded post-apocalyptic wastelands. Read in relation to Freud’s The Uncanny (1919), and discussions about veiling and unveiling in Jane Marie Todd’s “The Veiled Woman in Freud’s ‘Das Unheimliche’” (1986), I contend this persistent linguistic device is more than simply a trope to illustrate the futuristic ‘homes’ in which their stories are set, but rather that the use of grapholects, used in opposition to, or instead of, standard English, lifts the veil to an unhomely (unheimlich) knowledge; that the use of our home languages excises us from civil society, resulting in such homes becoming hellish wastelands and our voices the waste itself. Wells chooses to discard and bury these once-familiar languages within standard English, returning his characters, and readers, to civilisation; whereas, in Hoban, primitive first languages return to the reader like revenants in an estranged, disfigured form, and endure. Both methods invite the reader to consider again what this apocalypse of language reveals about the nature of class and society, and themselves within it.

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Remains of the State: The Post-apocalyptic as Putropian Narrative

Mason Wales, York University

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Although ‘post-apocalyptic’ has become a pervasive descriptive category within popular culture, little scholarly work has been interested in articulating the post-apocalyptic’s ‘differentia generica’ relative to related genres and narrative forms. This paper outlines ‘putropia’ as a term that both delineates the logic of the post-apocalyptic and provides a means to think through its political implications within specific conjunctures. Rather than an imagined good or bad place, best or worst government, putropia is an image of a familiar society in a state of putrescence. Through an analysis of three twenty-first-century American post-apocalyptic films – The Book of Eli (2010), Daylight’s End (2016) and Bushwick (2017) – the layered and textured interconnections of the vertebrate body and the processual nature of decomposition are proposed as a way to think of the state as a complex, mortal, and material system that is illustrated in and explored through post-apocalyptic fictions.

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Building Dreams from Nightmares: Structuration and Sustainability in The Walking Dead

Ann-Gee Lee & Bradley E. Wiggins, University of Arkansas and Webster University, Vienna

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In post-apocalyptic media, much of the characters’ suffering persists from their nostalgia for the old world. On the other hand, Christopher Todd Anderson suggests perhaps this post-apocalyptic world is better, revealing the corrupt, defunct old world (2012: 267). In the world of The Walking Dead (TWD), there are no longer any meta-systems for humans. As a result, the survivors’ actions toward establishing and maintaining a sustainable community constitute the essence of their system, which is consistent with British sociologist Anthony Giddens’s initial formulation of structuration and others’ ideas of sustainability in post-apocalyptic environments. This article examines the post apocalypse structuration and sustainability in TWD to demonstrate that expelling nostalgia and utilising technology, resources and creativity are key to imagining a more sustainable future. Rather than dwelling on the past and what was lost, characters need to figure out the roles they play in the new world, rules to be agreed upon and ways to utilise what resources they have. Only by doing this can they build new dreams from the nightmare they are living in and look towards the future – reflecting our own current world issues and how we need to focus on the solutions that sustainability offers for the collective good.

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Utopian Wasteland: Abundance, Futurity, and the ‘Golden Age’ in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End

Jerome Cox-Strong,

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Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953) narrates a colonial analogue in which humanity experiences paradigmatic sociocultural shifts under the supposedly benevolent subjugation of the alien Overlords – a period the text declares explicitly to be ‘Utopia […] at last’ (Clarke 1953 [2010]: 75). My reading examines the hollowness of this claim, whereby the façade of utopia obscures the Overlords’ ultimately apocalyptic intentions for the Earth, thereby producing the conditions and afuturity not of utopia, but of the wasteland – a state of pre-apocalyptic afuturity in which ‘the future has been cancelled’ (Srnicek and Williams 2015: 3). In rejecting the text’s claim to utopia, I draw on contrasts between humanity’s obliviousness to the Overlords’ intentions, and the hyperawareness towards a similar threat explored in Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem (2008) to examine the centrality of hope to a utopian imaginary that is, I propose, conspicuously absent from the wasteland of Childhood’s End.

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Creative Work

Ashes of a Glasshouse

Rebecca Davey,

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Three Poems: ‘Ping’, ‘Ariachne’, and ‘Dissolution

Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca,

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The Impossible Heap

Olivia Steen,

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Literature, Pedagogy, and Climate Change: Text Models for a Transcultural Ecology Roman Bartosch

Katherine Bowers, University of British Columbia

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It’s The End Of The World As We Know It: Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachtani? and Japanese Cinema’s Rock’n’Roll Apocalypse

Anthony Carew,

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The Post-Apocalyptic Novel in the Twenty-First Century: Modernity Beyond Salvage Heather J. Hicks

Grant William Currier, Oklahoma State University

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A Plague Tale: Innocence (Video Game)

Gavin Davies, University of Exeter and University of Reading

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Fragment Craig Russell

Layla Hendow, University of Hull

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Waste Matters: Urban Margins in Contemporary Literature Sarah K Harrison

Jade Hinchcliffe, University of Hull

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Broken Mirrors: Representations of Apocalypses and Dystopias in Popular Culture Joe Trotta, Zlatan Filipovic and Houman Sadri (Editors)

Liam J. L. Knight, University of Birmingham

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American Utopia: Literature, Society, and the Human Use of Human Beings Peter Swirski

Christina Lake,

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The Contemporary Post-Apocalyptic Novel: Critical Temporalities and the End Times Diletta De Cristofaro

Richard Gough Thomas,

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Bracing for the Apocalypse: An Ethnographic Study of New York’s ‘Prepper’ Subculture Anna Maria Bounds

Andrew Fergus Wilson, School of Law and Social Sciences, University of Derby

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Notes on Contributors

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