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Recent studies in environmental psychology have shown how acts of perspective-taking can increase empathy in participants, leading to a ‘green nudge’ effect in relation to climate change. Similar proposals recur in ecocritical approaches to climate change fiction, influenced by long-standing arguments on fiction’s capacity to improve ‘theory of mind’. To further understand, but also to problematise and thus develop, these discussions of perspective-taking, I identify the parallels between these claims and those concerning virtual reality (VR) as an ‘empathy machine’, as well as those counter-claims regarding VR as an ‘appropriation machine’ that commodifies the experience of others. Jorie Graham’s poetry collection Fast (2017) explores the possibilities and difficulties of generating environmental empathy via material and simulated means, the latter inclusive of both textual and digital forms. In my analysis, I show how Graham generates a deliberately unstable and unreliable perspective-taking process with regard to human and non-human others. Consequently, I argue that her poems contribute a crucial interpretation of perspective-taking as a provisional act that at once reveals our strong human desire to connect with others, as well as our (potentially inevitable) inability to do so.
Because of its inherent multidisciplinarity and conceptual flexibility, trauma theory has, from the start, been subject to ongoing revisions and redefinitions. This essay expands the notion of trauma as resulting from unassimilable, life-threatening, past events by conceptualizing trauma as resulting from the envisaged imminent annihilation of the known world. This apocalyptic trauma is embedded in American literature and closely tied to the politics of mourning dramatized in narratives of loss and melancholia but also in narratives of political activism and regeneration. This essay discusses apocalyptic expressions related to the trauma of the loss of the culture of the Old South in William Faulkner’s work, to the trauma of dispossession and cultural erasure in Chicano/a literature, and to the trauma of envisaged global annihilation in American eco-poetry.
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