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In “Slow Insurrection” I bring Mark Nowak’s documentary poetics into conversation with relational aesthetics and dissent encampments to explore the emergence of new democratic forms at the interstices of neoliberal capitalism. In Coal Mountain Elementary, Nowak makes coal miners and their labor central as agents in a project of radical history. In the facilitation of workshops in the Worker Writers School, as described in Social Poetics, writing is a site of political theorizing about labor and precarity. Following the discussion of Nowak’s work, I turn to Jacques Rancière’s theorization of aesthetics and politics and Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics to think about dissent encampments. I examine the ways that Occupy made the imagination of more just, caring, and sustainable social institutions part of the practice of inhabitation and central to its challenge to the political and economic institutions of neoliberalism. I argue that these inhabitations offered examples of Bourriaud’s “microutopias”: ephemeral futures in the interstices of global capitalism. Occupy embraced disruption and favored what Rancière calls “dissensus” over consensus. In the last part of the chapter I bring together the social practice of poetry with the encounter of relational aesthetics, illuminating the power of both literary texts and artistic interventions to offer new modes of democratic process.
The introduction places climate disruption within histories of colonization and enslavement. A reflection on the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice frames the persistence of structures of enslavement and racial apartheid that are evident in the US landscape through both presence and absence. Proposing a reparative and decolonial approach to climate justice, the introduction draws on a range of perspectives, including environmental justice, decolonial theory, and Black agrarianism. In dialogue with expressive cultures and resistance movements of frontline communities, the introduction outlines the ways that utopian narratives can express a desire to be freed from the sins of the past. In response, this introductory chapter offers narratives of revolutionary pasts and dystopian futures; practices of mourning, dissent, and hospitality; and everyday inhabitation and social care as locations where better worlds are created.
In “Cannibal Spirits and Sacred Seeds,” I describe Indigenous food practices as historical and contemporary forms of decolonial care. The chapter remembers the starvation regimes imposed by settler colonial governments as modes of subjugation. In this context, the writings of Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band) and Winona LaDuke (Mississippi Band) focus on the significance of food sovereignty to Indigenous resistance. Erdrich’s novel Tracks, set in the early twentieth century, centers resistance to colonization and dispossession, depicting the construction of hunger and the destruction of Indigenous foodways. LaDuke’s collection of essays, All Our Relations, offers case studies of protection of land and struggles under ongoing settler colonialism. LaDuke describes land seizure and toxic pollution but continues into the present with the reclamation of food sovereignty. Through these works the ongoing impacts of settler colonialism on Indigenous bodies, communities, and practices are made visible. But these writers also depict Indigenous foodways as centers of knowledge, life, and continuance. Food sovereignty is central to ongoing resistance in the context of climate disruption, visible in the kitchens of pipeline blockades, where Indigenous peoples oppose the most recent forms of dispossession and hunger. Daily acts of cooking, in these communities, are practices of decolonial care.
Chapter 4 interprets funerals and second lines performed since Hurricane Katrina to articulate an ethics of mourning and hospitality. In the context of post-Katrina New Orleans, these second lines perform memorials for all those who died or were dispossessed during the storm and have been unable to return. They are simultaneously forms of mourning and protest, occupying public space in resistance to government policies of diaspora. Drawing on trauma theory, I argue that Katrina can only be understood from a morally and politically engaged position, and healing can only happen within this context. Furthermore, I build on Jacques Derrida’s work on hospitality to link mourning and repair in post-Katrina New Orleans, illuminating the ways the people of New Orleans articulated an ethics for climate disruption through solidarity and social care. I conclude with a reading of Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones, which depicts the empathy, care, and courage of an African American family in the bayou during the storm.
This chapter argues that climate justice must be understood in the context of reparations for enslavement and requires a speculative recentering of history. Climate ethics often employs the lenses of corrective justice, the payment of debt, and distributive justice, the equitable sharing of benefits and burdens of greenhouse gas production. Placing climate disruption in the history of diaspora and enslavement allows for a theorization of reparative justice. In making this argument, I dialogue with the work of Octavia Butler, whose novels Kindred, Parable of the Sower, and Parable of the Talents imagine climate futures without seeking to escape responsibilities to the past. Furthermore, Butler’s alternative history and speculative fiction place African American resistance, and especially African American women’s creation of freedom, at the center of history and the construction of more just and sustainable futures.
“Everyday Micro-utopias” recapitulates themes from Climate Change, Literature, and Environmental Justice through an examination of pedagogy as a form of what Rebecca Solnit terms “building paradise” in the classroom. I draw on my experience teaching a class on climate change over the past several years, where my students and I remain in the presence of the unbearable grief of climate change, displacements, relocations, and extinctions. The course is a space to imaginine collective responses to climate change that carve what Nicolas Bourriad calls “micro-utopias” within the status quo. I offer a notated syllabus with readings, assignment notes, and the narrative that binds the course together. In the final pages of the epilogue, I turn to N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth speculative trilogy, which imagines revolutions of the enslaved that end the world and make possible a new beginning anchored in the archeology of past insurrection.
Critically examining the eugenic and utopian underpinnings of central narrative frameworks in climate change discourse, this chapter argues that our imagination of the future requires different forms of engagement with the past. I interrogate the rhetoric of collapse and look at two primary climate narratives, “the lifeboat” and “the collective,” which engage both eugenic ideologies and utopian imaginaries. Through a reading of Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler, the chapter examines how disability theory can disrupt narratives of survival and offer possibilities for thinking through the defamiliarization of place, bodies, and identities under climate disruption. In the final section, I turn to Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (2016) and Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain (1988). I argue that Whitehead’s and Bisson’s speculative histories are revolutionary acts of memory, reimagining history in ways that shift the trajectories of shared futures.
This chapter explores the link between Indigenous resistance and memory and looks at the potential for alliances. I begin with Simon Ortiz’s Fight Back, written in commemoration of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt against Spanish imperialism. Fight Back asserts that memory is essential to contemporary resistance by reclaiming the history of the Revolt and restoring this memory to the people. I bring Chela Sandoval’s concept of “coalitional consciousness” into dialogue with Fight Back to show how Ortiz countermaps the landscape, offering a model for contemporary alliances. Following Ortiz’s generous vision of alliances between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous allies, I turn to Nick Estes’s description of contemporary solidarity and Indigenous-led coalitions at Standing Rock. Then, in the final part of the chapter, I bring two authors, Kazim Ali and Rita Wong, into dialogue to think through the responsibilities of alliance.
Inspired by Susan Leigh Foster’s insight that bodies are “articulate matter,” Chapter 5 engages with tactics of movement and stillness in Indigenous activism that illuminate contemporary Indigenous coalitions of resistance and solidarity. I take up Foster’s insights to describe the signifying power of Indigenous demonstrations in Idle No More, at the Elsipogtog blockade, and in the Healing Walk. Through these interventions in public spaces and the sacrifice zones of settler civilization, Indigenous demonstrations articulate continuance in the center of the violence of climate disruption and global capital.
Placing climate change within the long histories of enslavement, settler colonialism, and resistance, Climate Change, Literature, and Environmental Justice: Poetics of Dissent and Repair examines the connections between climate disruption and white supremacy. Drawing on decolonial and reparative theories, Janet Fiskio focuses on expressive cultures and practices, such as dance, protests, and cooking, in conversation with texts by Kazim Ali, Octavia Butler, Louise Erdrich, Winona LaDuke, Mark Nowak, Simon Ortiz, Jesmyn Ward, and Colson Whitehead. Through an exploration of speculative pasts and futures, practices of dissent and mourning, and everyday inhabitation and social care, Climate Change, Literature, and Environmental Justice illuminates the ways that frontline communities resist environmental racism while protecting and repairing the world.